Initially starting out as a solo project by frontman Mike King back in 2009, over the years the Birmingham-based outfit Boat To Row have released an assortment of EPs and singles, going through a fair few line-up changes along the way. Now settled as a five piece featuring King, Ben Gilchrist, Anna Bennett, Lydia Glanville and Hannah Fathers, playing a variety of instruments between them, after two years in the studio, refining the sound under the guiding hand of Rob Peters and with Rachel Creswell guesting on cello, their long anticipated debut album finally emerges on their own Nocturne label, a collection of 11 tracks, none of which have been previously released.
Although they’ve been likened to the Mumfords in the past, that’s somewhat misleading. Folk they certainly are, a mix of contemporary and traditional colours, at times hinting at medieval troubadour touches and always with a strong pastoral feel that has inevitably thrown up the regulation Nick Drake references. He’s certainly in the mix, but so too is the Incredible String Band, Matthews Southern Comfort, Paul Simon and 70s folk rock outfit Magna Carta. There’s definitely, at times, also an air of late 60s English progressive folk
However, while comparisons may be made they don’t actually sound like anyone else, because King possesses a very distinctive vocal, a tremulous, hushed and, on occasion, spidery affective whine that can capture both melancholy and joy to alluring effect, complemented by the simple but intoxicating melodies and multi-textured arrangements.
He’s an excellent songsmith too, drawing on extensive natural imagery as well as archaic language and poetic lines such as “assumption is my bane” in Time And Time Again.
Introduced by otherworldly keys and strings, the skipping rhythm of As The Day Is Long opens the album, sliding into the harmonies of Whistle And I’ll Come To You, inspired by the classic ghost story, a suitably creepy number punctuated by sudden cymbal clashes of MR James.
They’re fond of metronomic rhythms and cascading chords, other examples being Handsome Beats, Truth And Silence’s musical box air, the scurrying Home Is Just A Word and a violin-haunted, crescendo-climaxing Sylvia. They’re equally potent on slower, more reflective numbers; Passing Thoughts is a lovely lullaby of loss and regret etched with fingerpicked guitar, banjo and cello while, accompanied by Hannah on keys, The Tarriff is a slow waltz of sadness that pivots around the lines “the tariff to wait for you bankrupts me year after year. Tickets and heartache, my collection is nearly complete.”
Elsewhere The Hunt, another lament of loss and emotional turmoil, dispenses with percussion for just guitar and strings and Turn The Page (King’s also found of allusions to the written word) has an almost hymnal quality, initially built around just his exposed voice and strings before gradually building a melodic swell. There’s also a waltzing untitled hidden track, another reflection on parting number, tucked away at the end, an extra treat in an already munificent package. Oarsome.
Review by: Mike Davies
‘I Found You Here’ is released on November 20th and available to preorder here.