There’s only one place to start here. And that’s at the end.
“Nina’s Song” is the last cut here, but its more. Its the very essence of “Fresh Bear Tracks”.
On the moving sleeve notes, T Bear talks about Nina, his wife, being his inspiration. He’s sitting at her desk to write them, he says, just the same as I’m listening to the gorgeous, string-laden track, right now. You can hear the emotion coming through the speakers as he sings: “I love you, from the cradle to the grave.” It’s an astonishing end to a wonderful record.
At this point, I should perhaps explain how I ended up with it in my possession.
In mid-May I made my annual pilgrimage (deliberate word) to see Walter Trout. The review of the gig did pretty well and a couple of days later I got a lovely email from his keyboard player asking me to accept a CD.
Richard Gerstein (T Bear to his mates) released “Fresh Bear Tracks” a couple of years ago after Nina “urged” him (his word on the sleeve notes) to put a band together and “sing songs from the soul”.
Which is what we have here, and “soul” is very much a word for this, because its all the way through the collection.
“Bring On The Night”, which features Trout on guitar and “Cleopatra” – with Benmont Tench on keys – were both what I might have expected when the album arrived. Classy, really well played blues from the top draw.
But something happens with “Dear John”. Shot through with more soul and in many ways sets the tone for the rest, “Cab Calloway” for example, is late-night jazz, but it contains the line “way before all that hip-hop” and right there, you get a sense of the classic nature of the sound.
As good as the playing is throughout, the lyrics match. “River Of Resurrection” is a gospel-flavoured thing, but reaches out into the confusion, “I could write a book about the things I don’t know” sings Bear and in so-doing manages to make the song speak to even non-believers like me.
“Love To Be Lonely” is a testament to his mastery of the keys, but you’ll never have this album pegged. “I Don’t Care” is as funky as it is sexy, and frankly is the sort of thing that would make me run a mile if it happened to me….
“Woe Is Me” though, is back to the jazz club, but only when they’re stacking the chairs at the end of the night, amidst the late-night cries of the desperate. “Give It Up” sees Walter back and Stephen Stills add some real class but it’s the harmonies that steal the show.
“Wonderland” with its spoken word, almost film noir approach, and words that take you deep- “alone and maybe clinically disturbed” is one line – is a real surprise, with both Nina and his stepdaughter, Selby getting writing credits. The cover of ‘She’s Not There” – the only non-original here – is typical as it’s clever and no mere facsimile, this is skilled musicians adding their stamp to Argent’s original.
Which sort of brings us to where we came in, except there’s one thing we haven’t said about Nina. “Fox” as T Bear calls her, passed away on 3rd September 2019, and this stands as her album, as much as its Richard’s.
In some ways, it feels wrong to even pen these words, given what the album means. But it’s brilliant- and that deserves to be said.
It’s just that to T Bear, these “Fresh Bear Tracks” doubtless helped with a pain that will never heal.