Ordinary Mystery

Album review:

Geoff Oelsner doesn’t spend too much time thinking about writing songs. Inspiration, he says, just hits him. He calls them “givens,” and he knows that a gift like that is to be used.

On the recording (Ordinary Mystery), he was backed by Kelly Mulhollan, Robin Rues, Andrew Sieff, and also his family, including his wife and two grown children who now make their careers as musicians.

Oelsner chatted with the us recently about the gifts of songs, the importance of recording with his family and his love of Native American cultures. Four songs on the album are dedicated to the countries different native peoples, and proceeds from the recording will be donated to Native American charities.

–Kevin Kinder, Northwest Arkansas Domocrat Gazette

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Review by Eduardo Sierra

If you’re weary of life in the fast lane, worn by all the agitating noise and word pollution, have a dose of this album—it’s an antidote. Ordinary Mystery is a deeply mellow, richly harmonized and a thoughtfully poetic album. And I like that it honors and pays great respect to our Native American forbearers.

At times Ordinary Mystery is haunting and prayerful, other times playful and funny; and often, it is deeply moving. This album has a variety with several types of songs: blues, hymns and love songs. Because Geoff is already a poet, his lyrics transport and inspire, and then, powered by fine music and harmonies, the whole thing becomes an experience that can evoke a sense of the extraordinary that is found in the simple ordinary things of life.

As with his previous album, Morning Branches, Geoff brings his rich baritone voice and poetic verses into a blend with sweet harmonies and just plain good music. The title gives you a bit of the flavor of this CD. It takes a poet’s heart to feel into emotions and visions of a people long past, to empathize with their views and culture and to express it in a way that we might feel into it too. This is a special art. And Geoff is well accomplished in this art. Considering the creative effort involved with writing the lyrics, making the music, and then the performance itself—this album is quite an accomplishment!

Talking with Geoff once, he mentioned to me: “…it was a dream of mine to include the whole family, plus a few excellent musician pals.” With Ordinary Mystery he has done just that. His wife Leslie and daughter Amy bring strong sweet harmony in it; obviously they all love one another. He’s also joined by his son Adam on electric bass, with Andrew Sieff on drums and Kelly Mulhollan on electric guitar.

Geoff has a lovely site on the internet: www.GeoffOelsner.com. You can get his albums there: Morning Branches and Ordinary Mystery. Plus, he offers free poetry and songs, Leslie’s photos and other artful things.

I like Ordinary Mystery because it has a lot of heart in it and I also appreciate being reminded of our Native roots. It has a strong tie-in with nature and spirit which the album celebrates abundantly. Yes, these are things to sing about and appreciate listening to. This album goes deep and welcomes deep listening. I highly recommend it for your listening consideration.

Here are my comments on some of the specific songs in Ordinary Mystery:

Cherokee Trail Of Tears: Here come the haunting voices from the Trail of Tears; they pull hard on the heart because they refers to a human tragedy, so this lament is both sad and poignant: “And I’m gone, and it’s hard to be gone, see it was good to be here…” it would be hard to hear this sadness if it weren’t so beautiful at the same time.

Ordinary Mystery: This is a delightful little song, one of my favorites. It’s just plain upbeat fun and wise at the same time! Everyone likes it: kids, boomers, grandpa’s. It sort of happily bounces along: “Oh that’s an ordinary mystery, a boundless possibility, a gentle generosity an angel and a friend, ordinary mystery an everyday sublimity, the sum of all that’s dear in me, a love that has no end.” The harmony between father (Geoff) and daughter (Amy) here is precious.

The Listener: This sweet tune is a profound reflection of the hidden side of life, with melodic riffs that recur to you later in the day. “…the Listener in us stands far behind our plans and schemes. He has our dreams to feed on ‘til we know, ‘til we see Who’s ever waiting…”

Take Me To Your Side: Here’s a tune that reminds me of Donavan, guitar accompanied. He’s joined in sweet harmonies with Leslie and you can tell they love one another. “…Take me to your side. Take me in and let me know we’ll always be the wondrous flow, like mountain snow against the dark, take me to your heart.”

Aboriginal Day: Again, the haunting voices of our Native Ancestors, gone but not forgotten. “They don’t call ‘em Indians anymore…” This song is thick with irony as it gives voice to the Native view and poignantly juxtaposes it against the White culture, the “First Nations People” they faced as they were being culturally assimilated. If you ever wondered what that was like, this tune gives you a feel. From A Motel 6: “The chair is looking lonely, but this bed has seen it all….” Blues from motel room floor: “morning has broken, this land has been battered bruised and mauled, there’s a joyful bird in the junipers but those crows up there don’t sound amused at all.” The ancient voices talk to us through the sad chords of this lament. Great blues harmonica and throbbing acoustics carry it along.

Tesuque Pueblo: Voice and acoustic guitar carry you to New Mexico to visit a pueblo where you feel the vibes, even in a chard of pottery that lets you know, as you contemplate taking it as a souvenir, that: “this is still our home, … and under the sun, I feel we’re seen and known by the ancient ones, and the raven’s a sacred go-between in this place of sentient stones.” I love the raven’s call at the end…

Pawhuska Pappa: This is hilarious! It’s one of my favorite songs on the album because it is very funny starting with Geoff rapping for the first two and a half minutes! Totally funny introduction! When he kicks into song, well it’s still funny. “I got a honey in Winona sings pretty as a crow, she’s always good to go… don’t you throw my wing nut and don’t you pull my plug…” Dig, it’s even got a bit of yodeling!

Dordogne River Hymn: This song flows like a river, images shifting as you move along. It’s a hymn to the incessant ongoing flow and ever changing scene of life. “She moves through Sarlat Market like a slow-flowing stream, bearing living water into our dry dream…” “Our human kingdom is a hard place to be. Love dissolves the walls between you and me…”

West Coast Farewell: This is a powerful way to end the album, with partings, farewells and sweet reminisce. Geoff’s voice shines brightly as he sings this one, usually I’m taken with his deep resonant tones, but here you get his upper range and it is lovely: “standing on the shore looking on, horizons so long I can hold the sun, … time for me to die again into another dawn.”

–Eduardo Sierra

Oelsner’s songs have a rich and timeless sound with hard hitting lines and choruses that stay with you long after the song has played.

Ginny MasulloPoet, Writing in the Northwest Arkansas Times

Excellent folk-roots variety: -VERY cool music… also TOTALLY LOVE the attitude!!! (100% of the proceeds from the sale of the CD and all of Geoff Oelsner’s live performances go the Seven Hills Homeless Shelter in Fayetteville, AR, USA, and to other organizations that reduce suffering and improve the quality of our lives.) — the NEW SPIRIT!!!

Lord LitterGerman DJ

This modern-day bard has been writing songs nearly as long as he¹s been writing poetry. He performs lead vocals on the CD, as well as playing guitar, harmonica, harmonium and dulcimer. He blends disciplines in his two projects, including song lyrics in the book and spoken poetry on the CD.

Musician Kelly Mulhollan described Oelsner as an astute observer, solid songwriter and innovative musician. His work in the studio was “almost frighteningly” spontaneous, as Oelsner continued to elaborate even as tracks were laid down. “He’s got the real art gene,” Mulhollan said. “Geoff probably works further outside the box than anyone else… He has an utter disregard for commercial norms.

Bettina LehovecThe Morning News (Northwest Arkansas)

He really is passing it on,” said friend and fellow writer and musician Alison Moore. “It’s like he’s truly in his element when he’s up there singing,” Moore said. “There’s a real joy in the way he performs.”

Alison MooreNovelist, Poet, and Musician, Quoted in the Morning News

More From Geoff Oelsner

Attunements For The Earth

Native Joy

Morning Branches

A Country Where All Colors Are Sacred and Alive

Ordinary Mystery