Cedar Branches – Shadows Illuminated

Genre: Spoken Word
Released: March 2018
Reviewed by: Benedict Roff-Marsh

I’ll say right up that this is an unusual album. In many ways you could very easily decide that it is a terrible album. In some ways I will understand as this sure don’t sound like anything you hear on the radio.

But once you get past the noticing that this record is odd, then I think you’ll notice that it is incredibly human. This is art with a really big capital A. This is a little bit like sitting in the room whilst Vincent cuts off his ear.

It is not a disturbing or gory record, but a very revealing record despite it being completely oblique more often than not. I do hope you can follow me here.

Most musicians these days try to make themselves sound the same as whatever is currently hip in their square. Cedar seems not to have at all. That is a breath of fresh air once you get past that it doesn’t sound like you think it should.

Cedar never set out to sing. He didn’t ever think he could. Maybe he can’t but he does it anyway. Sort of. Cedar is a Poet. He writes his poems and recites them with the music he created. He explains his thinking here:

Shadows Illuminated is definitely created in the true spirit of artistic expression. It was only by releasing my self-imposed limitations of what music should sound like that freed me to creating a music album (or even singing for that matter). If I held myself to the standards of music as a craft, I may as well have not created anything, for I was not gifted with a life devoted to building skill in composing, singing, or playing any musical instrument. It might have taken me twenty more years of training and practice before I was comfortable producing any music, and by then it likely would have simply sounded like what had already been done before.

So I let go of the rules, the limitations, and I simply started singing, composing, and expressing myself the best that I could. The result was the birth of a truly artistic piece. Certainly it is not for everyone, not for a mainstream audience, but I really care little about that. It is an authentic expression of who I am, and for that I could not be more pleased.

I find his approach delivers something very quirky and pleasingly unique. The music is electronic in origin as he sat down with GarageBand on a Mac and set about to work out how to create the backings he needed.

boston-albumSo what do you get? Well, I assume you are playing the stream above. Interestingly the sound harks back to some of the early 80’s experimental Pop records where a guy would sit in his room with a synth and drum machine and make his record. These were records that still tried to be Pop but re-wrote a lot of the ways it was done compared to say a Boston record. Interestingly this is exactly what Cedar did.

One track is marked as a Dance Version. It isn’t. If you did try to dance to this you might look mighty odd, or fall over waiting for the next beat that might or might not come where you expect it. “A Song That Is Happy” starts with a shock, or is a shocking start, but once you put aside your preconceived ideas it becomes compelling.

fileCedar is a bit of an odd one I will admit. He is the American dream gone awry. He had a good job, a car and the usual things we expect to have when successful. He grew dissatisfied, depressed even and had to unplug to roam and find himself. He even unplugged from his “normal” name.

This is the point where most people would ask you to look at Cedar with charity. I won’t. To me, that demeans what he has done. Real Art allows one soul to reach another through the medium used. That should never elicit charity.

From my collection I hear things that remind me of Gary Numan’s “Dance” record because of the simple electro backing sounds and lyrical intimacy, Harold Budd’s “By The Dawn’s Early Light” as it is a mix of music and spoken word or Lou Reed on “New York” for his simple honest stories. Cedar’s stories are not as clear but his directness eclipses Lou by far. Disarmingly so.

This isn’t Cedar’s first work as he has several books and spoken word poetry albums but his first “songs” and there is a stage show based on this work. I doubt any of us will get to see it but I bet it would be an interesting evening.

For now, I will wish Cedar happy trails and hope that he finds what he needs – assuming he hasn’t already, that is.

To find out more about Cedar and to support his work:


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