The county town of Hertfordshire, Hertford has a small but impressive musical heritage, Deep Purple formed there in 1968, Dan Filth of Cradle of Filth was born there and, most recently, local lad Georze Ezra has become something of a star. Marching Donald could well follow in their footsteps. Named for his late grandfather, who played in a marching band and on whose guitar he learned to play, Marching Donald is one Ryan Davies and this is his second self-released album.
Save for drums on three tracks and the female vocals by Zoe Phillips on one number, Davies plays everything on the album, notably some nicely picked and strummed acoustic guitar (although he’s pretty nifty on slide too), an eight-strong set mostly recorded in his flat and generally hung on themes of personal relationships, beautifully captured in the line about ‘your laces tied to my shoes’ on the reflective, fingerpicked Homeless and evident from the start with the infectious harmonica-blowing busker folk-pop of Brother. If that’s a bit of a stomp’n’shuffle, Stone Shadow (which sports the evocative line ‘I am nothing, but a stone shadow on a pebble beach’) immediately rings the changes with echoes of such 60s troubadour folk names as Jackson C Frank and early Cat Stevens, a mood that also informs the hushed and gently swaying Dove, his voice warm, mellow and grainy.
Since it’s almost obligatory for every young British folksy acoustic singer-songwriter to be likened to Nick Drake at some point, I suppose Don’t Leave Now with its watery guitar and pastoral air is Davies’ point of entry, though listening to the equally lovely and rustic rippling title track there’s something in the tremulous timbre of the voice that reminds me of Harry Chapin.
Although the bulk of the album is soft-toned, he’s not averse to punching things up a notch or two, the choral intro to Author of the World, a more full-blooded rework from his self-titled debut and one of the tracks to feature percussion, giving way to a rousing, chugging train rolling rhythm bashed out on acoustic guitar while, again featuring choral intro (sounding like some Welsh chapel choir), the six minute epic closer Cast In Bronze shifts tempo between quiet fingerpicked passages and rowdier flurries that mix strummed acoustic, electric slide and drums as, following a false ending, it briefly slips back into hymnal mood before building to a guitar ringing, cascading vocal climax.
There’s considerably more nuance and shadings than on his much rawer and bluesier 2012 debut, demonstrating an increasing mastery of his craft and a greater confidence in his own abilities and, while getting the music and his name known beyond the county borders might take time and some hard gigging, once heard I suspect many will be falling in and marching along with him.
Review by: Mike Davies
Available as download or ltd edition CD from www.marchingdonald.bandcamp.com
For his latest gig dates visit: http://www.marchingdonald.co.uk/