NormanOak is Chris Barth. Born A Black Diamond is NormanOak’s debut – a wind chipped, folk meditation on the universe’s creation, mycology, the Tree of Life and a bit of Aleister Crowley mysticism. NormanOak has taken the form of a glacier, a coyote, and a woodpecker over the past few centuries, and now he has decided it was time to sing and play for the world.
Born A Black Diamond was recorded over the 2002-2003 winter while NormanOak’s band the Impossible Shapes (in which he is the songwriter, lead vocalist, and plays guitar) were sequestered in the forest outside of Bloomington, Indiana, recording their fourth album We Like It Wild. Born A Black Diamond was recorded during the evening down-times onto cassette tapes in various hallways, bedrooms, and basements that were ceremoniously charged with magickal energy following each session. It is a self-recorded time capsule with only a little help from whoever happened to be supplying that night. As a fervent backpacker and wayward trail guide, NormanOak was able to employ a host of wild animal dealers and friends on these recordings to bring them to life, such as Eric “The Panther” on vocals and Andrew “The Black Bear” on drums, among others. Though sharing a lot of the same themes, Born A Black Diamond is a more meandering and spontaneous record than the decidedly methodical We Like It Wild. Barth takes a similar free-spirited hippie wanderer approach on Born a Black Diamond that psychedelic forefathers like Donovan and Marc Bolan’s Tyrannosaurus Rex took a few decades earlier, a time when NormanOak was pecking the trees. Though inside the strums and animal claws, there is a complexity, a sap that has flown from the leaves of Ya Ho Wa 13 and Robert Wyatt. He takes great pride in his use of the 4-track (which has been squashed over the past several years due to the ubiquity of digital recording), which may be enjoying a renaissance of sorts as like-minded artists like Iron & Wine, Devendra Banhart and The Blithe Sons have been making champions of albums with its use in the past two years. On Born A Black Diamond NormanOak makes this aural nature scene complete, not with field recordings but by harnessing his unique primal call of voice and guitar into a gently rippling wind of freedom and change.