Some Blue Morning, the new record by Adrian Crowley, finds one of contemporary folk music’s unsung heroes in fine form on an album that advances his unique sound and eye for detail into new areas while remaining true to himself. With the assistance of long time friend Steve Shannon, who adds numerous instrumental contributions throughout in addition to his input as engineer and producer, Adrian has created his best album to date; it’s a worthy addition to his already impressive back catalogue which augurs well for the future.
The title track Some Blue Morning opens the album, a masterclass in cinematic soundtracks for imaginary films with Kevin Murphy’s urgent cello punctuating the hovering drones of harmonium and treated guitars like ghosts of futures past. Katie Kim’s haunting backing vocals wrap around Adrian’s deep, rich vocals as the song unfolds, modulating between minor and major keys. The Hungry Grass builds on the epic widescreen sound blueprint in a tale of barely suppressed passion as Adrian and Katie’s voices entwine, rising and falling like spirit dancers locked in a perfectly synchronised embrace.
Lyrically The Magpie Song draws on the age-old superstitions around this beautiful bird as a harbinger of doom but does so in the oblique yet detailed way that is such a hallmark of Adrian’s songwriting. Musically the sense of otherworldliness is almost overwhelming in its subtle power with Emma Smith’s violin and Ted Barnes’ hammered dulcimer filling the middle eight with an air of foreboding.
The Stranger, a slow, heartbroken reverie on a love gone bad and the ensuing lonely introspection, is perhaps the most deeply personal lyric on this album and one can’t help wondering if the diverse range of instruments that Adrian plays simply reflect the song’s uncertain intimacy or enhance it. Either way, the result is a riveting listen and one of the highlights of the record.
According to Adrian’s sleeve notes, Trouble was “partly inspired by a conversation with two gents after a show in Deventer, Holland” and while it’s to be hoped that this was a civilised discourse and that his words aren’t a euphemism for a punch-up outside the stage door, the outcome is a gently optimistic anticipation of a new friendship. Katie Kim’s vocals and the twin cellos of Kevin Murphy and Mary Barnecutt provide a wonderful backdrop and Adrian’s drily sardonic worldview is glimpsed through one of the finest couplets I’ve heard in a long time:
“And do you have a vacancy
For a ‘wet leaf rail track picker’?”
Awash with shimmering, treated guitars and Adrian’s delicate clarinet motif, The Gift is a short instrumental interlude which sets the scene for the lyrical afterglow of The Angel. In contrast to the gentleness of Adrian’s words, there’s a distinctly abrasive edge to the unusual musical arrangement of three cellos (Kevin Murphy, Alex Beamont, Michelle So) with a glittering hammered dulcimer (Ted Barnes) cutting through the surprisingly ominous atmosphere. Follow If You Must ponders the uncertainties of personal relationships and, like The Stranger, finds Adrian playing a multiplicity of instruments to dramatic effect. Katie Kim’s vocals are shrouded in reverb like wreaths of smoke from the last bonfire of autumn as Dave Hingerty’s drums beat a slow retreat.
The undoubted centrepiece of the record comes with The Wild Boar, which taps into the ancient Celtic myths that appear throughout our shared cultural folk memories. In The Mabinogion he appears as Twrch Trwyth (Triath in Irish mythology), an enchanted wild boar in the Arthurian legend of Culhwch and Olwen. The story is updated here for the twenty-first century but its telling is no less enthralling – particularly as Adrian delivers the lyric as a spoken-word recitation over a sparse instrumental arrangement which slowly gathers in intensity to create a compelling dreamlike atmosphere for this hugely evocative allegory for our times.
The Hatchet Song returns to the theme of love and the extremes of emotion and passion it can generate. Adrian’s fingerstyle guitar is the perfect complement to the lyrical bitter pill while the strings of Emma Smith (violin) and Vincent Sipprell (viola) add the perfect measure of sweetness. The record concludes with the perfectly placed Golden Palominos and its retrospective look at the inevitable passing of our lives; despite this potentially gloomy subject, the major key arrangement turns the song into an uplifting and positive closer.
As the autumn chill tightens its grip and the days grow shorter, Some Blue Morning is the perfect accompaniment to an evening curled up by the fireside. From sweeping sonic panoramas to ethereal tales imbued with an almost ghostly presence, this is a record whose heart and soul burn with a heat and passion that will keep you warm through the long dark nights of the advancing winter.
Review by: Helen Gregory
Released in Chemikal Underground 10 Nov 2014
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