Black Belt Eagle Scout: The Land, The Water, The Sky (Saddle Creek) - review | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Black Belt Eagle Scout

The Land, The Water, The Sky

Saddle Creek

Feb 10, 2023 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

From the earliest moments of her life, Katherine Paul was connected to her home, her heritage, and her land through music. She was raised on the Swinomish Reservation, growing up surrounded by her family’s drum group, with music acting as a lifeline to her culture and spirituality. On The Land, The Water, The Sky, Paul’s third album under the moniker Black Belt Eagle Scout, she explores deep into the roots of this connection, exposing the ties that bind her people, and her music, to the land itself.

Paul’s latest effort was born from a homecoming, as she relocated back Swinomish Indian Tribal Community amidst the upheaval and collective trauma of the pandemic. The record stands as a reflection and celebration of that homecoming. The land, the water, and the sky are each ever-present on the album, acting as a mirror on Paul’s own life and reflecting her struggles, her loneliness, and her triumphs. As she sings on the opener, “My blood runs through this land/I find it in the land and sea/I feel it like no other being.”

At different points on the record, Paul’s instrumentals evoke the contours of a dark and dense forest (“Treeline”), a tranquil river (“Salmon Stinta”), or an infinite blue sky (“Don’t Give Up”), yet each locale feels just as much like a reflection of her inner world. Each landscape is equally a self-portrait, painted with rumbling percussion, diaphanous post rock guitars, and meditative lyrics.

Paul infuses these portraits with poetic, often solitary, grace, manifesting her resilience in searing, distorted guitar textures and her longing in wounded, doleful melodies. On many tracks on the record, including highlights like “Blue,” “On the River,” or “Understanding,” the lyrics are scant and abstract, with Paul instead singing in gorgeously arranged wordless harmonies. Her voice simply acts as another instrument in the swirling mix of melodies, instead offering her space to the swelling strings on “Spaces” or the glistening keys on “Nobody.”

This translates into a meditative and deeply reflective work, even compared to Paul’s previous records. Though she does allow space for dense and distorted guitar work on “My Blood Runs Through This Land” and soaring euphoria on “Don’t Give Up,” she most often explores subtler territory, playing with mood and muted shades. Though these moments can sometimes appear opaque, those who look between Paul’s swirling textures and elliptical melodies will find deep wells of potent emotion. In particular, throughout the album, Paul centers her heritage, her ancestors, and their stories, whether she is reimagining the origin myth of the Inuit god of the sea with “Sedna” or inviting her parents to contribute vocals on “Spaces.”

At its core, the album is about these connections and how they have shaped Paul’s life. These themes come to final fruition with album closer “Don’t Give Up,” as Paul offers a powerful and defiant denouement, tributing the healing and meaning found within her land—“You heard it here today/I told you my story/That I found healing in you/Windy leaves are flowing/And in these leaves/They come from people who grow/But we’re to listen, guide us/I want everyone to know/I don’t give up.” In its joyous final moments, the album invites you once more to settle into itself, gently rising and falling like the tide as you see the land, the water, and the sky through Katherine Paul’s eyes. (

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 3/10


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