by Rick Cornell
In 1990, post-punk Scottish singer-songwriter Stephenson recorded “Big North Lights,” a gentle stream of a tune that pivoted on the line “Northern lights are humble lights my friend.” Until the release of “Northern Lights,” Stephenson had the honor of writing the loveliest and, well, most humble song to reference the northern lights. It’s now a tie.
Love songs work best when they're subdued and private, and you feel a little privileged to be given a peek—the opposite of someone professing his or her undying (and most likely fleeting) love by screaming in the middle of Grand Central Station. “I don’t need from you a waterfall of careless praise, and I don’t need a trophy for all the games I play," sings Phil Moore, setting up the quiet clincher: “But all I want is your eyes in the morning as we wait for a short while.” It’s maybe the most subtly romantic line since “And you’re standing here beside me, I love the passing of time.”
And the music behind the feelings, which seems to be constructed of old timber, echoes The Band at its rural-hymn best. There’s plenty of open space, leaving room for a recurring acoustic guitar lick that’s as simple as it is instantly memorable. A sun shower of parlor piano sprinkles down, as if Richard Manuel could be sprinkling it himself from above. Let’s call it “Northern Lights-Southern Girl.”
[Disclosure: Music Editor Grayson Currin released the Bowerbirds first LP, Hymns for a Dark Horse, on his former record label.]