Scivic Rivers: Scivic Rivers | ★★★★ | Potluck | Feb. 10
“The last thing I want to do / Is file another field piece / About what it means / To raise a human being.”
These words start the last song on the first album by Scivic Rivers (and the seventh album from deep-thinking Durham songwriter Randy Bickford, who adopted the moniker after releasing two 2010s albums as Brice Randall Bickford and a handful before that as the Strugglers).
With all due respect: the album very much is a field piece about raising a human being—but it’s also much more than that.
Scivic Rivers connects the threads of a songwriter becoming a father as he loses his own father to lung cancer, mulling the amount to which we grow with each generation against the way our patterns can often seem to just go on repeating—“a child is always on the way” is the persistent refrain of “Instruction After the Fact,” the aforementioned closer.
Set to folk-rock that runs the gamut from epic and somber to energetic and danceable (captured with immersive clarity with help from local producer Scott Solter), Bickford’s latest connects these looming existential anxieties with more prescient concerns about the state of our world and nation.
“O little child / You will never know a world / That lets you forget / What you’ve been,” Bickford intones on “Born Outside,” contemplating the digital footprints that cling to us in this modern age as acoustic guitar and organ slink before blossoming into a patient full-band rollick. “When I was a boy / I really thought I would be / Relieved to find out / How the story ends.”
Shortly thereafter, Bickford laments that he lived “to see a demagogue / finally get the keys to the United States” and that “we had this coming.”
Scivic Rivers is filled with such verses that poignantly weigh near-term concerns of family and society against the arc of time and history.
“Shenandoah Granite” observes, “You can be scared / And bored at the same time / For the civilized / It’s hard to feel otherwise.”
The opening “High Season” finds Bickford thinking about how “The sea is close / As close as you can get to eternity / It goes on / Churning bodies” as he lies sprawled out on the beach with “other bored voices” around him.
Appraising a newly built overpass “with the boy as a lens” on “Blood Vessel,” he notes with a grave double meaning that you can take the interstate “all the way / To the end of the West.”
The music on those songs remains elegantly nervy and elemental even as it trips through varying shades of rock, Americana, and disco.
Bound by the yearning of Bickford’s honeyed and hypnotic baritone, Scivic Rivers ponders questions that are big, unknowable, and universal with arrangements that are consistently immersive and engaging. This is an album that doesn’t pretend to have the answers, but it might make you feel less alone.
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