Middaugh describes their music as Leonard Cohen on an ice skating rink. Moreno-Beals adds But with a funny hat and holding an ice cream cone. The Leonard Cohen part refers to the gravity of Middaughs voice and the poetic imagery of his lyrics. The funny hat and ice cream cone describes the kid-like playful nature and subject matter of their songs.
Middaugh, who also is an accomplished artist and printmaker, lives in East Jordan. Moreno-Beals is a grade school teacher in Ann Arbor and Hobbs is studying geology at Michigan State. They get together on weekends and have been busy the last few years playing festivals and small venue gigs all across Michigan.
Now, after being featured as artists of the month on the online E-Music, where their music is described as gentle, lovely, nursery rhymes for grown-ups, Breathe Owl Breathe has fans in faraway places across the country and even in Europe. This summer they will be playing at music festivals in Alaska and Ireland.
That was amazing, Middaugh says. Just having our music going out to so many people all of a sudden, different places where people are looking for music thats original. We put our address on our most recent album and it is really fun to get snail-mail. Someone from Ohio sent an envelope with leaves in it.
The album Middaugh is referring to is Ghost Glacier and has a lot more going for it than just gentle nursery rhymes. It has textures of horns, steel guitars, keyboards and glockenspiels. It has a quality, depth and production values that transcends what one might expect to come out of the backwaters of the Jordan River.
Part of what makes Ghost Glacier work so well is the level of musicianship. Hobbs drumming is tasteful and always in service of the song. In addition to being a fine singer, Moreno-Beals is a classically-trained cellist. She improvises confidently within Middaughs unpredictable songs and propels the tunes forward. She skillfully alternates between bowing, plucking and slapping her cello. She often plays the role of the bands bass player on the cello.
Middaughs songs do not follow the typical verse-chorus-verse structure that most songwriters use, but Moreno-Beals appreciates the challenge.
Ive never played with a songwriter, where song-to-song, I dont know what to expect and I really enjoy that, Moreno-Beals says, He doesnt fall into patterns of song forms, which is really exciting to me.
Middaughs inspiration comes from a mix of childhood memories and natural history. It is his way of holding on to child-like awe and bringing it to the adult world. He remembers his mother reading Shel Silversteins Where the Sidewalk Ends, when he was growing up. It inspired him to start writing his own poems and picking up his dads guitar and as he says just going for it.
I thought it was really important - the story of the song, Middaugh says. Thats why I love Inuit art. It is a story being passed down, but it is not higher than the people.
Its enough to inspire Middaugh to come up with another analogy of the Breathe Owl Breathe sound.
Our music is like going up to the tundra and bringing it back to Michigan on the back of a muskox. His nostrils are flarin and you can see his breath in the cold.
Breathe Owl Breathe music is downloadable through E-Music and I-Tunes. For song samples, info and where to purchase CDs, go to www.breatheowlbreathe.com or foxonahill.com The Ghost Glacier CD has a DVD side with LOL Breathe Owl Breathe home movie shorts, including one featuring the B.O.B. Sled Team.