Look To the Skies

I sat next to Belinda Underwood at a Picture The Ocean gig at Alberta Street Pub in Portland a couple of years ago. I had no idea who she was, of course. Not at first. I got the idea that she might not know who she was, either, but I was way off-base on that. Of all the women on the planet, I think Belinda is one of only a few who really do.

I was there to see Picture The Ocean, she was there to see the opening act, Chris Bigley & Ben Cartwright. We traded info, then sat back to listen. Between sets, we traded more information. I found that she played upright bass with various bands; that she belly-danced; that she supported arts of all types; that she was an environmentalist and a freethinker (that would mean something to those who lived during the twenties, thirties and forties), that she actively participated in various causes and supported more than one person could possibly support in a lifetime. Until then, I thought myself a liberal. Next to her, I looked like Rush Limbaugh (God, just typing that made me shudder). She was pro-animal, pro-choice and for equal rights, no matter what the issues involved.

She told me her father was the Underwood who had invented Underwood pickups for bass, that she had not long before picked up baritone ukulele and was studying it, that she hoped to record solo in the near future. Look To the Skies, it appears, is that future.

There is a bit of Hollywood gypsy in her music, mixed with a fifties take on the twenties, thirties and forties. She vamps and cajoles and twists messages from within in the hope that more will see the truth as she sees it and, as far as I can figure, she has her pulse on it more than myself. The sound is sparse, the voice natural and central to the song and the subject matter important. Love and life, yes, but more metaphysical at times and occasionally bitingly real--- pointing toward man's propensity to kill--- not personally, but corporately. Okay, she only hints at corporate, but her messages surely target it. During our conversation, we each hinted at the frustration at attempting to peel layers from the corporate onion, layers which they created to hide the stench beneath.

I have no idea if I would have taken to Belinda Underwood, musician, had I not spent a large portion of that evening talking with her. I walked away knowing that she knows her music and loves it, has a real penchant for art forms of all kinds and is a kind and caring person. When I did a little research, those thoughts were reinforced. And sometimes, such as this instance, it is impossible to separate the person from the intent of the music. I point toward Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger as examples. And, no, she does not sound like either. But she does carry her placards in the form of song. I know. Every time I hear Don't S#!+ Where You Eat and Dirty GMO, I am reminded. Someone once asked where all of the protest songs were these days. I can only point to Belinda Underwood and say, well, here are a few of them. Listen for yourself. Perhaps she could tell us where all the flowers have gone, as well. Maybe next album. Speaking of which, you might also want to check out Underwood's other albums on cdBaby.

- Frank O. Gutch Jr. May 12, 2014

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