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Spencer Lewis, 'Ruins and Foundations'


Spencer Lewis, Ruins and Foundations - COURTESY
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  • Spencer Lewis, Ruins and Foundations

(Self-released, digital, CD)

Spencer Lewis has duality on his mind on his latest record, Ruins and Foundations — light and dark; major and minor keys; destruction and rebuilding. The album honors impermanence in life and hails change, even while casting a glance at the wreckage of what we leave behind.

Lewis, who describes his music as "ambient Americana," is a level beyond prolific. Ruins and Foundations makes a cool 29 records for the Vermont folk artist — 19 of which are instrumental, including this newest offering. Yet the Randolph-based composer and guitarist never seems short on ideas or inspiration throughout his vast catalog. He mines swaths of traditional folk music and interweaves his own style to make an evocative brand of music. Lewis creates a sound that seems to emanate from moss-covered rocks, deep forests and sunlight on snow.

The title track starts with a gently plucked acoustic guitar figure, which spills over Jeff Berlin's ticking clocklike drumbeat. Lewis layers in viola and mandolin to add color. The song moves from a contemplative, minor-key progression to an uplifting major-key, highlighting where the songwriter's ruins give way to foundations.

Gleaning meaning from instrumental music takes a little more introspection than poring over a songwriter's lyrics. The timbre of a guitar or a subtle cymbal splash can signify a mood change or a shift in the narrative.

For instance, "Waiting for a Leaf to Fall" sounds exactly how it should. Lewis picks a gorgeously slow guitar piece, with all the patience of a droplet of rain easing off the foliage. The viola appears, adding just a hint of tension. Lewis plays the viola himself, a V. Richelieu he rented from Vermont Violins.

"A Candle for Vera Miles" comes in two parts. Keeping with the theme of duality, the first movement is uplifting and reflective, with mandolin lines like tittering laughter; the second is a low-key, melancholy number. Both tunes are a tribute to American actress Vera Miles, who starred in the classic films Psycho and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance.

When not composing chamber-folk music that, as he puts it, "paints the rural landscape," Lewis is a stonemason, which may help explain the album's title — and his sturdy approach to songcraft. He records at his home studio, Woodstone Mountain Studios, which sits on 45 country acres. In a press photo for the release, Lewis sits next to the mouth of a cave-like opening between two stone walls, guitar in hand, like some figure out of a folktale. It might all seem staged if the authenticity weren't so acute in his music.

Ruins and Foundations is the work of a skilled craftsman in long and nuanced reflection, and is as impressive as it is expressive.

Lewis' latest record is available at spencerlewismusic.com. He performs this Friday, March 4, at the Chandler Center for the Arts Main Stage in Randolph.

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