Heather Woods Broderick: Home Winds

Heather Woods Broderick fans eagerly awaiting the follow-up to 2015's Glider might well consider tiding themselves over with this splendid seven-inch single. Though only two songs are presented, the disc offers a wonderful sampling of this special artist's gifts, and the music's impact is even more greatly felt when experienced in conjunction with the photographs of Benjamin Swett, her collaborator on the Home Winds project.

The project was initiated by Katie Michel, the founder of the NY-based gallery Planthouse, who conceived the idea when her mother decided to leave the family farm (known as Home Winds Farm) in Gladstone, New Jersey and preserve a significant portion of the land for agricultural use under the New Jersey Farmland Preservation Program. Swett visited the farm over the course of a year, capturing in photographic form its maples, beeches, lindens, and black cherry trees during the changing seasons. Having determined that the images would lend themselves effectively to a book format, Katie then decided to couple them with music, which led to her contacting Heather and the eventual vinyl-book combination.

The seven-inch single backs “Home Winds” with “Shoreline,” the former recorded by Heather with her brother, Peter, in Portland and the latter written one afternoon at Cottonwood Bay near the Willamette River. The lilting title track is a magnificent ballad devastating in its expression of longing. Singing lines such as “I feel far away from where I belong” and “Do I truly recall your face from when it was young,” Broderick pierces the heart with a tremulous vocal delivery that intensifies the material's emotional impact, while the singing is supported by a stirring arrangement featuring electric guitar, drum machine, organ, strings, and wordless harmonies. Anyone with a few years under his/her belt will easily relate to the nostalgic yearning for a home that can only be recaptured in memory, a sentiment Broderick poignantly captures in the lines “I've never been back to the town from which I'm from / When the timing is right the home winds will tell me to come / I longed for it then, I long for it now, and I'll long on / I waited then, I'm waiting now, and I'll wait on.” (In keeping with the project's preservation theme, proceeds from the digital download of the song are being used to benefit non-profit organizations committed to fighting climate change.)

“Shoreline” can't help but seem secondary when heard after such a wondrous creation, but if it's not as stunning it's a fine complement nonetheless. There's much to recommend the B-side, from allusive lyrics that allow for multiple interpretations (“And then I heard him calling, he was calling after me / Asking me to lift my head and hands out from my knees”) to the contrast between stripped-down verses, where vocals and acoustic guitar are lightly dusted with piano, and rousing, strings-enhanced choruses.

Adorned with a handsome dust cover, the full-colour book follows a thoughtful foreword by Elleree Erdos with two-page spreads that typically display a line from the “Home Winds” song on one page and a photo by Swett on the other. Though trees are the focal point of the photographs, he wants the viewer to notice not just the tree itself but its specific location within the landscape and its connection to it. Looking at his photos, one is reminded of a tree's enduring quality, that a particular tree, for example, might live on long after one generation passes to become a presence in the lives of the next. Swett's photographs single-handedly re-sensitize us to something most of us take for granted.

A flaw or two has a habit of sneaking its way into even the most carefully prepared physical product, and Home Winds is no exception. On the page where the line “When the timing is right the home winds will tell me to come” appears, the display reads “When then timing ...” and on the following page the line “I longed for it then” appears as “I longed for then.” Still, such typos, though regrettable, don't significantly detract from the overall result, which is on the whole a thing of beauty, and certainly following the lyrics and viewing the photos as Broderick's song plays makes for a powerfully moving experience. Such a creatively ambitious project deserves to be celebrated.

October 2017