Reviewed by Susan Lloyd
Limbs and Branches by Jon Foreman
"Acoustic, natural, honest, stirring, and musically stellar, these songs are timeless gifts that listeners will appreciate for years to come."
For anyone who missed Jon Foreman’s’ seasonal installment of 6 track EPs throughout the past year, you have the perfect opportunity to “catch-up” by experiencing his compilation of songs from the set called Limbs and Branches. The 12 track CD contains 10 songs from all four seasons plus two previously unreleased songs. And I have to say the collection is a perfect sonic collection for anyone in the mood to contemplate, sing along, lament and love. Because of his knack for plowing through the human experience with a velvet blade, Foreman’s songs will have impact on those who listen, and Limbs and Branches is the ideal collection to serve as an introduction for the full EP collection.
Casual Switchfoot fans who’ve not heard the seasonal EP’s will be surprised at how direct Foreman is in expressing his faith. Opening track “Your Love is Strong” is based on Matthew 7 and the Lords’ Prayer. “House of God, Forever” is an achingly but sweetly simple interpretation of the 23rd Psalm. Both of these tracks are powerful in their own way. “House of God, Forever” has a simplistic, organic instrumental treatment with a single backing voice (Sarah Masen), a perfect way to highlight the power of the prayerful lyric. While “Your Love is Strong” begins the same way, the swell of background vocals and the sheer rawness of Foreman’s voice during the last third of the song is so rich, so layered, that it achieves a majestic feel without being overpowering.
Just as Foreman is direct in expressing his faith, he’s also direct in exploring love, heartbreak, and the imperfection. He’s included several soul-baring love songs such as “Behind Your Eyes” and “In My Arms” both of which express the honesty of love and the mystery behind the deep connection a man and woman share when they are in love. But Foreman isn’t satisfied to express those warm feelings of devotion. He expresses the darker side of human brokenness and the impact it has on relationships through the tracks “Broken from the Start” and “A Mirror is Harder To Hold”. I’m impressed that Foreman stays away from traditional ideas of attraction, infatuation, and romance and prefers to be honest in his love songs. I found them to be refreshing and challenging, giving me more to think about than the radio friendly romance that most song writers have settled for.
Foreman seems to have a strong commitment to honesty in general, and because of that bent, it sounds as if he’s given each song special consideration when it came time to create instrumental arrangements. My assumption is that he’s used a variety of instruments so that he is able to fully express the emotion of the season, the song, or the thought being expressed. Bass clarinet, dobro, harmonica, and cello are woven throughout the entire track listing. The combination of guitar, cello and harmonica on “Southbound Train” isn’t necessarily an original idea, but the arrangement is so effective, one can’t imagine hearing the melody or lyrics married to any other instrumental combination. While Foreman leans heavily on acoustic guitar throughout the entire track list, he also incorporates the use of a sitar on more than one track, bringing an eastern flair. Foreman loves percussion too, and it’s rare to hear a full drum kit on any of these songs as he prefers to use the more earthy sounds of hand claps, congas, bongos, and tambourines.
Foreman’s new songs on the listing are as impressive as the ones gathered from his EPs. “Over the River” begins with the almost hypnotic repetition of a single word, whispered over a single chord. The song seems to be a companion song to Switchfoot’s current hit “This is Home” and Foreman’s voice is nothing short of heartbreaking to listen to. He floats into falsetto throughout the piece and the effect is transcendent. “Broken from the Start” is the stark admission that hearts will be broken, once again highlighting Foreman’s trademark transparency in lyricism.
Foreman has done a stellar job with this album. He’s chosen the “stars” of each EP with help from a survey on his website where fans were allowed to vote for their favorites for inclusion. And amazingly, the album stands beautifully on its own as a separate, striking collection of honest, earthy songs that speak to the human condition and the mystery of our relationship to our Creator. I’m not sure if Foreman has plans for another set of solo work, but if he doesn’t, he’s completely satisfied the listener with this set. Acoustic, natural, honest, stirring, and musically stellar, these songs are timeless gifts that listeners will appreciate for years to come.
Susan Lloyd is a professional photographer in Charleston, South Carolina who specializes in shooting concerts. She holds a degree in Music Education and has worked as a worship leader and as a youth minister. She is passionate about all types of music and enjoys encouraging and supporting bands who seek to glorify God. She also loves movies, animals, traveling, and making new friends. She and her husband have three kids and have been married for nearly 17 years. More info about Susan's photography can be found at www.susanlloydphotography.com or www.susieq3c.wordpress.com