Heresy I know, but I have to confess that, while acknowledging his talent, especially on guitar, I’ve never really got the reverence in which Nick Drake is held. So, it was with some trepidation that I approached The Garden, given the Drake comparisons it’s had. However, the reality is that Adams is, at times, more akin to John Martyn or, especially vocally, Don McLean, his oft-watery guitar work evocative of Bert Jansch.
Hailing from Glasgow, Robin Adams has been plagued by a chronic illness that has made it all but impossible to make a living as a touring musician, something that feeds into the theme of the struggling artist that informs much of the material here, a large proportion of it inspired by the life and death of Van Gogh, an artist whose work was born from his constant battle between the dark and the light.
Save for the appearance of Pete Harvey’s cello on the twilight waltzing Holy Smoke, the album was recorded entirely by Adams, alone in a bedroom overlooking the garden after which the album’s titled. As you might imagine, it’s an intimate, fairly sparse affair, the opening heady title track, which would appear to be about boxing and blood spilled, actually evocative of Buffalo Springfield, especially with the double-tracked vocals.
Things are a little lighter on Paint Me The Day, the line about “burning red skies over fields of gold flowing like rivers of colour all born from your soul” clearly a Van Gogh reference, a mood that seeps into the romantic Keep Me although the shadows soon return on the gentle, but still angst-ridden Troubled Skies (“will they never let me be”).
From this point on, any cheeriness bids farewell, gloomier notes ushered in with Right To Run, a hymnal anti-war folk song about how refusing to fight doesn’t denote cowardice that could easily be an American Civil War ballad while, over a rippling guitar pattern Street conjures McLean as he sings of homelessness and how “your heart is made of paper, your life is made of glass.”
A narcotic, slurred Need Not Turn returns to matters of war, a song inspired by Arthur Rimbaud’s description of a soldier’s corpse in his poem Sleeper In The Valley, before the sparse Jansch-inspired picking of the trad-sounding Midnight Blood’s account of actual and metaphorical sinking ships.
However, marrying McLean in sound and Springsteen in lyric, the album closes on an anthemic note of defiance with the stripped down, slow and utterly magnificent Collision Course in images of “wheels of blood and gold”, “diverting dreams through lovers’ songs, driving as one in vehicles meant for single roads” and “a beauty of our own”. A garden of earthly delights indeed.
Review by: Mike Davies
The Garden is out now via Backshop Records.