A few days ago, I donned my winter coat, put on a wool hat, and braved the chilly late fall air to hike up the hill and get the mail. Tucked between a weeks’ worth of holiday ads was a little box containing The Heart, The Time, The Pen by Bucks County, PA band Crow vs Lion.
The significance of this little box cannot be ignored in this age of digitalization, where the distribution of music to press and bloggers is predominantly in the cloud, dialed down to ones and zeros. Everything–literally everything–comes through email these days.
So when an unsolicited physical release arrives, it grabs the attention.
Especially if it contains personalized, hand-designed outer packaging.
It was such that I struggled to want to open it.
Building a Career and Family
Dan Gallagher, the primary songwriting and creative force behind Crow Vs Lion, stepped back from putting out new music after the 2011 release of Rest Your Bones. But he was far from idle.
In the eight years since that release he channeled his energy into building a career and starting a family. Creative efforts continued, they just weren’t recorded until now.
It was his two boys that led him to record again.
“I wanted to present them with an intricate puzzle, of sorts, to discover at different stages of their lives as they come to understand themselves and the world more,” said Gallagher.
We’ll get to that later.
But first, “Newborn (Exon 42)” from The Heart:
Songs like “Newborn (Exon 42)” channel indie folk. Others, like “Missouri” also off The Heart, pull in influences of country.
Creative and Collaborative
Working with Bob Saia, Crow Vs Lion put together a design and layout of the album, creating a listener’s guide–a guide for Gallagher’s sons Danny and Dylan–that hid things throughout the artwork, the music, and the three sections of the album.
Three sections, three components to the album’s name: The Heart, The Time, The Pen. Each of the three distinct sections includes four songs.
Gallagher states: “I wrote them as if they were snapshots of different aspects of life that can be lessons my sons could learn from me, kind of like life advice or showing them things I’ve learned.”
While the primary inspiration and purpose behind the album was his sons, throughout the creative process he also paid close mind to the greater audience–everyone else.
Where on Rest Your Bones he worked with Joshua Britton, here he taps the talented Raphael Curtufello (who often goes by the moniker Hezekiah Jones), among other artists and musicians.
Here’s “Entropy” from The Time:
A Concept Album with a Listener’s Guide
Crow Vs Lion’s bandcamp page notes the release is “in memory of Jack Gallagher, Eugene Olsen, Helen Gallagher, Helen Olsen, and John Gallagher.”
Tucked into the listener’s guide, I found a photo of one E. Olsen.
“There’s a lot to unpack in the listener’s guide and sections,” notes Gallagher. “The idea is for my sons to uncover the hidden and more sophisticated things as they grow.”
The listeners guide begins by explaining the album’s layout, which I’ve hinted at above re: the three sections. But it delves further, noting that the first song in each section begins with transitions that “serve as indicators you are entering a new theme.”
The number 13 resonates throughout the album; the listener’s guide makes this abundantly clear. Beyond that, I won’t touch on the mysteries within the guide. Those are for the listener–and the original intended audience, Dan’s two sons–to explore and discover.
Here’s “A Thousand Pages” off The Pen:
What’s Next for Crown Vs Lion?
I posed this question to Gallagher, mostly out of curiosity, as even a regional tour for a family man isn’t necessarily the most logical of moves.
“I have the next album written and mostly arranged,” he replied. “It’ll be seven songs. I plan to begin recording in mid to late 2020.”
In the meantime, he’s working on piecing together a group for local live performances, maybe put together something on vinyl, and probably a few other ideas being kicked around.
For now we have the memory of Rest Your Bones, and the intriguing new release The Heart, The Time, The Pen. You can find both albums on bandcamp.