The Brook and The Bluff
Some things in this world exist without any evidence and without anyone taking notice. Feelings of ambiguity, turmoil and loneliness are mostly invisible but as real as any place. So let’s imagine such a place where you are free from those things. Let’s imagine a place that feels like home. Not the home you knew as a child, but a new home, the place where you’re supposed to be. You are at peace in this place. It’s so tangible that you can describe it. It’s in the woods, among the trees, far from the noise out there. It’s between a brook, whose waters carry sounds like soul from Muscle Shoals, and a bluff, whose echoes carry the applause of dancing leaves. This is the place in which you are called to come and play. This is where you belong.
Such a place exists for Mountain Brook’s Alec Bolton and Bluff Park’s Joe Settine. The acoustic neo-soul duo, The Brook and the Bluff, has found a home in music since returning to Birmingham after graduating from college in 2015. They first collaborated musically at Auburn University performing “songs you didn’t know you wanted to hear,” as members of the popular cover band, The Freewheelers. A year after The Freewheelers disbanded, Bolton landed a solo gig at the bar 1716, but beckoned Settine to join him on stage. Despite their contrasting styles, the duo found quick synchronicity in their play.
“The chemistry we have playing together is not something I’m ever going to have to worry about,” said Settine. “Our strengths are so opposite, but complement each other so well.”
With graduation imminent, the two found they could escape they typical senior distress through writing songs. But it wasn’t until they returned to Birmingham in 2015 that they decided to pursue their passion full-time.
“It felt good coming back and playing in Birmingham. This feels like home,” Bolton says of one of his first gigs back at Avondale Brewing where they opened for Kansas Bible Co.
The Brook and the Bluff wasted little time before releasing their first EP, The Rough Cuts, late in 2015. They groove playfully, intertwining catchy hooks and blues riffs while the vocals deliver just the right depth of soul to convince you of the lyric’s truth. They sing about complex themes exploring doubts of what’s ahead, the conflict of adulthood, and the loneliness of growing up. In the end, songs from The Rough Cuts become a place you can go somewhere between youth and adulthood that’s free from the anxieties of uncertainty and change.
While what you hear is acoustic neo-soul, not unlike that of Ben Harper, Tracy Chapman, John Mayer or Ed Sheeran and they both quote local favorites such as St. Paul and the Broken Bones and the Alabama Shakes as inspiration. “I want to be a part of that,” Settine says. “I want to be a part of what it is in those bands to put Birmingham and Alabama on the music map. I feel a part of this city. It’s because people appreciate music, but it’s mostly because I am able to do what I was supposed to do in music that I feel truly happy and at home here.”
With enough material to record a full-length album, The Brook and The Bluff are already planning a return to the studio and it’s likely you will hear songs from The Rough Cuts again.
“They were originally written to be accompanied with drums, bass and even sections for horns,” Alec said of the EP.
“The Rough Cuts was nothing more than a project, just to put something out there,” Settine adds. “It gave us a chance to get a feel for the studio, and the feeling was good! I didn’t want to leave!”
Joe is currently commuting to Nashville and back, using these songs as a platform to collaborate with other musicians and field potential accompaniment for the album. Meanwhile, Alec is in Switzerland, taking advantage of his time teaching music there to hone his skills and work out any existing kinks in the material’s arrangement. When asked how they feel about preparing for an album separate of each other they just kind of laugh the question off, fully aware of the noise out there. The reality is they’re fully aware of what they have to do to make this next album happen. And they’re fully aware of what happens if they don’t. And whatever the two are lacking as a musical duo, it’s certainly not confidence in each other. It’s like what they have transcends distances oceans apart. And this thing, this place, The Brook and The Bluff, it’s where they are called to come and play. It’s home. It’s where they belong.
-Josh Matthews, Mother Plug Music