As the title of this album suggests, Beyond Living is a collection of folk songs about death, many of them written by musicians who have passed. Alicia Bay Laurel, known for her 1971 guide to sustainable living entitled Living On Earth, collected and recorded many of the songs on this album in response to a number of deaths she encountered in recent years, including, most notably, legendary Japanese singer-songwriter Takashi Donto Kudomi, who died in 2001 at a hula performance. Songs from artists from several countries round out this decidedly international album.
While the album's theme might suggest darkness, the album feels more like a celebration. As Laurel's liner notes suggest “lyrics about death contain valuable instructions for living,” and these songs are no exception. Their cheery melodies, vocals, and a fingerpicked guitar mix with deep sadness in the manner I associate with children's songs (Remember when you found out “Ring-Around-the-Rosie” was about The Plague?) The album invites the listener to engage with the certainty of death and to feel the relish that reality brings to living. Much like listening to the blues, listening to these songs provides a deep and pleasurable access to human emotion.
Beyond Living contains a few medleys that mix thematically related songs, including “Ruminations,” a twelve-minute instrumental track. It also often includes spoken word English translations within the song, a device I enjoyed the first time, but found tiring upon repetition. Repetition, in general, was my primary issue with the album. While I enjoyed individual songs, I found the experience draining as a whole. Perhaps that was the point; after all, what could be more predictable than death?