Krist Novoselić, Ray Prestegard, and Robert Michael Pyle
Murky Slough Music: 2019
This eleven-track acoustic folk offering celebrates the natural world with profound but approachable spoken-word verse inspired by the cycles of life and sciences of ecology and geology. Armed with a PhD from Yale University and sense of curiosity about and reverence for the biosphere, Robert Michael Pyle—a lepidopterist, naturalist, and award-winning writer—presents compelling poetry that explores the intertwined fates of humans and nature.
Pyle, largely considered the godfather of American butterflying, founded the Xerces Society—named for the extinct blue butterfly and committed to the conservation of others. He has written butterflying field guides as well as nonfiction works about searching for Sasquatch and appreciating the natural wonders of the American West.
This collaboration is chock-full of imagery of the Upper Left USA, particularly the coastal regions, where the land meets and rivers flow into the sea—and the three artists on this album make their homes. Pyle’s poetry is backed by Krist Novoselić (‘16 Soc. Sci), founding member of the iconic grunge band Nirvana, on guitar and accordion, as well as Ray Prestegard on guitar, dobro, and mandolin. (Novoselić and Prestegard also perform together in the band Giants in the Trees with Jillian Raye and Erik Friend.) They all live in southwest Washington.
Pacific Northwesterners will recognize regional references—to Bridge of the Gods, Rattlesnake Ridge, Selah, Umatilla, Dry Falls, Grand Coulee, the Gorge. Pyle’s lines take listeners “past the churches and creameries, and graveyards and stores” through a land of cedar trees and Sitka spruce, channeled scablands, fiddlehead ferns, lichen, moss, elk, salmon, sea lions, slugs, elderberry, basalt, and cormorants. Combined with hauntingly bittersweet harmonica and the maritime accordion of sea shanties, it all feels like a front-row seat for an old-time storytelling session or open mic night at the local grange hall or pub in a small West Coast seaport. The shortest offering on the album, “Big Wave,” the first track, runs just over two minutes and sets the tone. The longest, the second track, “Voyage of the Beagle,” stretches almost eight minutes.
Verses stem from a deep concern for the environment and make mention of significant places and occurrences in natural history—from the ancient Missoula Floods and earthquake-prone Cascadia Subduction Zone to global climate change and journey American writer John Steinbeck took with his friend, the biologist Ed Ricketts, to study ecosystems in the Sea of Cortez. “Voyage of the Western Flyer” ends the album and, halfway through the final track, there’s a nod to Nirvana that fans will recognize: “All in all is all we are.”