Employing almost fifty musicians to help realize his musical aims, singer/songwriter Cameron Blake’s second release Fear Not aspires to the same level of achievement as his previous album 2015’s Alone on the World Stage and surpasses it in many respects. No one can sanely accuse Blake of keeping his goals modest. The dozen songs included on Fear Not range across an astonishing selection of topics and subject matter. Blake is just as comfortable writing about global events as he is with crafting micro narratives about one individual that, thanks to the intelligence driving his composition skills, nonetheless ends up making important statements about the times we live in. There’s an overarching theme to the collection, but Blake never belabors it into pretension and, instead, explores the idea of fear artfully over the course of the album’s running order. It’s a stunning and all encompassing experience.
The evocative piano opening the first song and title track set a delicate stage for Blake’s voice to enter the arrangement. There’s a lovely weariness in his voice that’s never overstated, but it’s palpable from the first and neatly dovetails into the song’s lyrical content. He brings strings and ethereal choral backing vocals into play to further sweeten the song’s subject matter, but the redemptive power of his words is real. It’s marvelous to hear how deeply Blake plumbs into the reality of fear being a part of every human story. Some of Blake’s classical inclinations carry over into the album’s second track “After Sally”, but there’s a country music influence coming into play here with the shuffle pace and how the song’s violin playing works in much the same way a “fiddle” does in traditional country music. His narrative skills are highlighted on the song “The Only Diamond” and the unusual arrangement steered by near tribal drums, intermittent guitar swells, and melodic piano. Blake’s lyrics are, once again, a significant strength thanks to their specificity and emotional accuracy. This is a songwriter able to encapsulate experiences in song with withering focus.
“Queen Bee” has a spartan sound initially, but the song soon opens up and its frantic pace is handled deftly. The addition of wordless backing vocals contrasts nicely with Blake’s near spoken word vocal. One of the most affecting gems on Fear Not is the track “Tiananmen Square” and his chronicle of an iconic figure from the pro-democracy protests that roiled China for a time in 1989. The poetically titled “Moonlight on a String” opens with the sort of deliberate, careful pacing you might expect from such a title and the delicacy of Blake’s vocal supports that mood. His vignette-ized tribute to the deceased Philip Seymour Hoffman, titled “Philip Seymour Hoffman”, is a rewarding and rather beautiful track carried by the piano. The final song on Fear Not, “Monterey Bay”, has a strong elegiac feel from the first and never rushes itself. This is an immensely thoughtful and carefully crafted album, but it is never anything less than natural and will surely appeal to many.