It is always in the epicentre of your troubles that you find serenity, according to French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and it’s hard to ignore the troubled birth of North Ten, the debut album by Edinburgh’s Ross Wilson, aka Blue Rose Code. A personal history of addiction and bereavement has plagued Wilson, to the extent that you would expect his songs to be cathartic, maybe even bitter. He would be forgiven for dwelling on the past, for pursuing the confessional singer-songwriter path single-mindedly. So it is reassuring to find that this soulful set of folk songs is shot through with an overriding sense of calm.
Wilson is accompanied by an excellent set of musicians, chief amongst whom is the apparently ageless Pentangle bassist Danny Thompson. When Thompson’s playing comes to the fore, as in ‘Ghosts of Leith’, there is a jazzy simplicity to the sound that masks a mature ear for arrangement. Equally important to the mix is Lizzie Ogle, whose backing vocals and violin provide as dreamy, sometimes hypnotic backdrop to much of the album.
Wilson has struck an impressive balance here – a balance between expressing himself in his own distinct voice and allowing for a collaborative sound that gives the album completeness and variety. On Julie, for example, his simple, clever fingerpicking gives way to jubilant singalong outro.
Where there is pain on North Ten, it is always at a distance – something that is being escaped from, approached with caution or circumvented with travel and movement. Travel and rootlessness are abiding themes. Whilst many of the songs have their base in London, Wilson’s adopted home, their heart – as Bob Dylan would say – is in the Highlands. But although Wilson’s lyrics are geographically deracinated, there is no sense of spiritual homelessness. There is instead an acceptance of what the future might bring, particularly in ‘Come The Springtime’, an affirmation of love that links human relationships with the power of the natural world. Final track ‘The Last Days Of May’ is as sublimely paced as Astral Weeks-era Van Morrison, and begins and ends with the sounds of waves on a highland beach. In the hands of many musicians, this would be a clumsy, trite metaphor, but for Blue Rose Code the tranquillity is hard-earned and well deserved.
Review by: Thomas Blake
North Ten is released on Reveal Records Feb 25th 2013