Alt-folk singer/songwriter Luke Beling takes us track-by-track through his achingly intimate and breathtakingly raw debut album ‘A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean,’ a beautiful record that dwells in life’s heavy, inevitable, and unavoidable depths.
for fans of Iron & Wine, Gregory Alan Isakov, Devendra Banhart
“A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean” – Luke Beling
We all carry it. Tension. The what is, what if, and what will be of our days… The tension builds, powered by our discursive minds. Until, like a dam wall in a flood, we break. For better or worse.
Vulnerable and visceral, achingly intimate and uncompromisingly raw, A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean is a cathartic and all-consuming eruption. Luke Beling comes at us hard and fast like the rush we never expected, immersing our ears and drowning our hearts with tender and turbulent alt-folk songs that ache from the inside out. Dwelling in life’s heavy, unavoidable depths, his debut album is a bridge – the match point between pain and hope, a reckoning with the utter fragility of our bodies and the push-and-pull of nature’s currents.
“It’s no revelation that life’s thrashings are a certainty for all of us – the pushing, pulling, failures, and disappointments,” Beling says. “The struggle, great or small, is inevitable.”
Rather than succumb to turmoil, A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean leans toward stillness and tranquility. He may forever be taking two steps forward and one step back, but with each of the nine songs on this album, Beling gets closer to a space of peace, understanding, and acceptance. His is a journey to which we can all relate, because we are all on it – alone, and together.
All the shadows here still dancing
got to tell my feet to keep moving
Before the merchant screams buy some more
Before the drilling machines find the oil
Before the air I breathe comes heavy for talking
All the games I play I keep losing
Trying to tell myself to stop proving
Before the man with glass asks my name
Before the lady’s cash buys my fame
Before my leather mask burns up bright into flames
Before the tight rope walker leads me to the slaughter
The bankroll daughter ships me ‘cross the border
With a bottle full of bitter
A note from the vicar
Blood on the holy altar
– “A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean,” Luke Beling
Independently released October 27, 2023, A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean is powerful poetry, poignant reflection, and soul-stirring passion manifest into one incredible body of work. Singer/songwriter Luke Beling’s debut album firmly establishes him as an artist to watch in the alternative folk space – a hazy area where indie rock, folk, Americana, country, and even grunge all collide.
Out of this world have come the likes of Sturgill Simpson and Gregory Alan Isakov, and now comes South Africa-born, Hawaii-based Luke Beling: A storyteller with a passion for the heartfelt, the heated, and the evocative. This was evident on last year’s debut EP When We Dreamed, and it holds especially true throughout his first long play, a record born out of moments of inescapable hardship over the past few years.
“I started writing this album during a period when I began experiencing a lot of knee pain,” Beling tells Atwood Magazine. “I soon learned I was missing my PCL (the largest ligament in the knee) and was a candidate for an early knee replacement. I’m 39 and teach tennis for a living. In light of this, I knew I wanted to write an album that was honest, dealing with the tension and frailty of life…the what is, what if, and what will be of our days.”
“One can imagine the feeling of being a stone in the mouth of the ocean… What began as a vision for observing life’s inevitable struggles turned into a reflection of learning how to stay unreactive during life’s harrowing moments, silencing the mind’s noise with a calm that carries peace and hope,” he adds.
“I feel that all anyone on either side of the artist/audience equation should ask for is honesty. Starting with the writing and then the production, I hope my artistry on this album reflects authenticity.”
‘A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean’ is an album that explores tension, songs that venture through the ‘what is,’ ‘what if,’ and ‘what will be.’
Beling considers A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean an honest, contemplative, and poignant record.
The name, he says, is as much literal as it is deeply metaphorical.
“I was watching the sea crash against a shore lined with stones one day,” he recalls. “A wave dislodged a stone and dragged it to the ocean floor. I couldn’t help but feel like that stone, thinking about and trying to deal with my injury. But after some time observing, I realized that eventually, the stone would resurface, carried by deep currents, back to the bed, shining again underneath the fiery sun.”
“A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean is a picture of the pains of life and also of the unreactive mind. The songs on this album deal, in one way or another, with these two ideas: pain and our response to it.”
That much and more is evident from the album’s opening song and title track: Like a calm sea that suddenly turns stormy and dark, “A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean” both sets the tone for the record as a whole and stands out as a captivating reckoning with the tension and frailty of life. A warm soundscape of dusty guitars, glistening piano, and marching drums steadily builds to cinematic heights around Beling as he sings verse after verse, his voice urgent, his words increasingly pained as he ultimately recognizes his inability to outrun life. “Before the steam boat captain drowns me in the basin, the war-torn nation tries negotiation, with a proclamation, my condemnation, stone in the mouth of the ocean,” he sings in an emotional climax – a breathtaking, bittersweet surrender. “I’m a stone in the mouth of the ocean… I’m a stone in the mouth of the ocean…“
That opener remains a personal favorite of Beling’s to this day. “I do love the tension in the title track, and how the song sets the precedent for the album,” he says, betraying a smile. “I was listening to a lot of Dylan when I wrote the song and became especially aware of his kind-of rapid-fire rhyming schemes that give many of his songs a kind of ‘momentum feeling.’ I’m pretty pleased with my attempt at ‘stealing’ a little of this from the greatest to ever do it. “
Further standouts include the enchanting Springsteen-esque anthem “Too Late,” the emotionally charged “The Blessed and the Damned,” and the smoldering “Pain Like a River” – another cinematic eruption of tender turmoil, this time coming to terms with death, loss, and longing. Beling captures the intensity and the magnitude of grief on a soul through vivid, emotive, and personal lyrics born out of the unexpected death of a friend’s son. “Pain like a river, water’s cold and bitter. Dive a little deeper in the dark to trace the silver,” he aches, immersed in sorrow – and painting an equally mournful portrait:
Grief like a mountain
Reaching to the clouds then
Climb her rocky ground ’til
Her dirt’s your golden fountain
Whirlwind dark night
Sorrow beating moonlight
The passage of your birthright
Through the burden of this tragic life
Hammer pounding shorelines
Seas as high as trees rise
Black and grey and cold skies
The air you breathe til morning’s light
– “Pain Like a River,” Luke Beling
“‘Pain Like a River’ is about the tragedy and miracle of life,” Beling explains. “We can hardly think of ourselves as human without either one. I wrote ‘Pain Like a River’ after hearing about the unexpected death of a friend’s son. I remember feeling so hopeless and heavy for the family, imagining the impossible-to-describe difficulty of taking a breath or getting out of bed, strangled by life-shattering pain and a weight of nihilism. There are seasons in this life where we experience either the bright light of day or dim dark of night. ‘Pain Like a River’ is a song about embracing the tragedies and miracles, yet without losing hope.”
Beling brings those terrible, terribly human emotions and experiences to life with grace and deft nuance here; breathtaking in the very best of ways, “Pain Like a River” is hauntingly beautiful.
Yet it’s one of many songs that stop us in our tracks. Beling shares a few of his own favorite lyrics:
“I have a seen a promise land
run the streams
for the blessed and the damned
there on the beams silver light
the dream for us the world made right.”
– “The Blessed and the Damned“
* * *
“Before the steamboat captain drowns me in the basin
The war-torn nation tries negotiation
With a proclamation
Stone in the mouth of the ocean
I’m a stone in the mouth of the ocean.”
– “A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean“
* * *
“I’m a paper bag drinker
A diamond-hand thinker
My Missy’s on the phone calling home
I’m a boned-up dinner
A strip club sinner
My Jimmy’s pumping pain to play the game.”
– “Pearl in the Tide“
* * *
Conceived out of turmoil, A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean is a gentle giant of raw, resonant human emotion and experience.
Luke Beling has introduced himself not as a savior, a healer, or answer of any kind – but rather, as another one of us, in the deep, dark trenches of life, just trying to make it through to another day. It’s hard not to fall for that kind of unfiltered humility, especially when it’s delivered through such moving music.
“I hope listeners will connect to these songs in a way that brings language to the already-lived experiences and feelings they have. Also, that it’s fine, oftentimes good, to sit with pain and struggle without an immediate response or answer,” Beling shares. “I’ve personally learned that it’s okay, actually necessary and good, to be honest, and vulnerable when creating art. Also that, while the letting go is much easier said than done, when I’m able to remain unreactive to life’s pounding waves, surrendering to the present moment, to something greater than myself, it’s possible to meet pain with a stillness that carries peace and hope.”
Experience the full record via our below stream, and peek inside Luke Beling’s A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean with Atwood Magazine as the singer/songwriter takes us track-by-track through the music and lyrics of his debut album!
‘A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean’ – Luke Beling
:: Inside A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean ::
A Stone in the Mouth of the Ocean
Setting the theme for the album, the title track deals with the tension and frailty of life we all experience sooner or later. It’s a song about recognizing our fragility in this gigantic universe we call home as well as a reminder to surrender to the present moment in life’s most harrowing circumstances.
A fictional song about the loss of love with an Americana kind of setting.
I wrote “Too Late” with my good friend and indie artist, Silicone Boone. It’s a fictional story about a boy urging his mother to flee her string of abusive lovers. The song is a nice blend of our (silicone and I) love for fiction, the blue-collar protagonist, and the things of melancholy when it comes to songs.
Pearl in the Tide
I wrote this song about the current wealth gap crisis. Sung from the vantage point of a man in poverty, he’s asking the rich man to “walk in his shoes” and consider what it might feel like to have nothing. It’s an observation of two lives lived under drastically different circumstances and a call to always be mindful of the poor.
Pain Like a River
I wrote this song after learning about the tragic death of my friend’s son in a motorcycle accident. There are no easy answers for grief. Sometimes all we can do is sit with our pain.
Ride Suzy Ride
This is another fictional story song where I imagined a man being betrayed by his long time friend for money. Bobby and Wendell run a bar together, mostly for the love of it. Bobby gets approached by developers and then essentially kicks Wendell out because he’s going to get a big payday. Wendell decides it best to ride for the sunset and leave everything behind, everything he’s worked all his life for.
The Blessed and the Damned
This is my reflection on the hope of ultimate reconciliation for all people and all things. That one day all our sorrows, pain, and darkness will come to an end in divine love, beauty, and glory.
Smooth Black River
This is my reflection on alcohol abuse. I wrote this song after hearing about a marriage (of someone very close to me) on the brink of divorce due to one of the spouse’s alcohol addiction.
To Never See The Light
I wrote this song about a man I met in Nepal while hiking the Himalayas. He told me the story of how he and his brother were sold into slavery as children. “To Never See the Light” is my reflection on that.
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© Jorge Luis Bonilla
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