The third album from Ross Wilson, aka Blue Rose Code, opens with a brief revisit to the Grateful EP, released back in November. This reprise for …And, Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing provides an introductory statement of intent. With its stripped back gospel sound (courtesy of The McCrary Sisters), and positive message of thanks it’s a sound that will return later, with increased vigour.
After so successfully whetting our collective palates; the opening bass, brushed snare and lightly picked guitar of Brave Cedars & Pied Wagtails provide the Blue Rose Code trademarks that offer such an immediate and memorable attraction in Ross Wilson’s music. Add to that the soaring fiddle of Lauren MacColl, Wrenne’s beautifully expressive harmonies and, of course, Ross’s own poetic and instantly engaging way with a lyric; and we have an opening that confirms the reasons for his continually increasing popularity. Equally upbeat is Rebecca. Matthew Boulter’s pedal steel croons softly behind a love song brimming with a positive energy that, while it nods happily towards Ross’s debut album, North Ten, displays a fresh wistfulness raised further by Angus Lyon’s accordion.
Continually looking forward, in My Heart, The Sun Dave Milligan’s masterfully light touch on the piano is reflected by Colin Steele’s trumpet. The McCrary Sisters help build a hymnal chorus and the wide, incredibly talented company Ross has assembled, conspire to do justice to the ultimately restorative lyric.
Just as with his greatest hero, John Martyn, Ross is never afraid to lay bare his regrets. In Pokesdown Waltz we’re presented with the painful intimacy of a man sitting alone at the piano, his only friend in the world, singing his heart and soul. That gospel sound hinted at in the opening reprise makes a return full-force, quite an achievement given that we’re listening to just one voice and piano. No surprise though, when you consider the fervour with which Ross sings, and the enlightened choice of Dave Milligan for piano. The heartrending line that will be quoted from this album forevermore (which I’ll leave you to find) overshadows the exquisite poetry that’s all through this song…
“I’ll always sing those songs that I wrote you
They’re yours and they’re mine”
… could even Robert Burns have combined devotion and remorse so perfectly?
If you’re at all susceptible to a heartfelt lyric, prepare yourself. If you aren’t, there’s every chance you soon will be.
Ross Wilson was never one for painting a scene sonically, that’s usually left to his lyrics. Glasgow Rain, however, does just that. Descend from a rain soaked Glasgow street to a near deserted basement club. Alone he sits, in sullen contrition; vacant eyes reddened with self-reproach. The jazz trio on stage are barely seen through the smoky haze and barely heard through his regrets. A soft Caledonian voice recites his words of comfort, but there’s no sanctuary in them, only mockery. Trumpet, bass and cymbal mimic his torment then leave him to struggle with his self-destructive conviction… “I’m no good, I’m no good”
Glasgow Rain is the antithesis of …And, Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing. Danny Thompson, Colin Steele and John Lowrie provide the musical backdrop for the emotional crises that prefaced the more positive outlook throughout the album. That soft Caledonian voice is provided by none other than Ewan MacGregor, who was enthralled when he discovered Blue Rose Code after the release of The Ballads of Peckham Rye.
The lift of mood required after Glasgow Rain arrives just where it’s needed, with In The Morning, Parts 1 & 2. Coming to terms with a life that must be lead on the road, that compels him to wring out every emotion on paper; Ross looks back on where he’s been, and forward to what the morning brings.
“I ran for miles along the Dorset shoreline
I tried, alas, tae gie ma heid some peace
With the bridges of London city still burning
I wrote another song about defeat.”
Part 2 goes off into a daydream…perhaps back to the club… pedal steel, piano, fiddle, bass, trumpet, vocals, all on a ramble with Signy Jakobsdottir’s atmospheric percussion. Favourite Boy further illustrates the wide range of influences that pervade the album. Meandering between an upbeat swing underpinned by Danny Thompson’s bass and Dave Milligan’s piano; and a moody, mellow vibe from Kevin Garrity’s trombone and The McCrary Sisters’ vocal.
Meanwhile, Love sees a return to a more typical love song. Warm brass and Wrenne’s vocal accompany Ross on his journey of self-discovery and realisation of the inevitable.
The album closes with a return visit to In The Morning Part 3. Trumpet bleeds sorrow to open, but the song takes a gentle turn with Ross’s light guitar and a rich, harmonious chorus. Then Lauren’s soaring, heart-rending fiddle puts the bird firmly on the wing for the anthemic conclusion.
…And, Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing is a much stronger step forward from Blue Rose Code than might be initially apparent. It’s an album that rewards return visits with new discoveries. The wide cast of contributors to the album has provided a range of sounds that, while adopting a progression that displays a stronger jazz influence, still harks back to the warmth of North Ten. Those same contributors largely come from the remarkable pool of talent on the Scottish trad scene and Ross’s Scottish roots are far more in evidence on the album, perhaps due to the time he spent song writing on a Shetland croft. Ross Wilson’s ability to write songs that tug the full spectrum of emotions remains quite remarkable. His additional ability to perform those songs with sincerity and skill continues to draw a wider audience towards his work. Ultimately, it’s all about those songs. Their seed may come from the depths of despair, but their flowering confirms a rebirth.
The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ, moves on.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Video Filmed by Rob Bridge & Redwood Photography
Released on March 4, 2016
Order via Bandcamp: bluerosecode.bandcamp.com/album/and-lo-the-bird-is-on-the-wing
Also available via: Amazon
UK Album Tour
3rd – **SOLD OUT** The Voodoo Rooms – EDINA
4th – The Caroline Club – SALTAIRE
5th – The Met – BURY
6th – The Yard – CHESHIRE
11th – The Institute – KELVENDON
18th – The Folk House – BRISTOL
1st – Elm House – FIFE
2nd – Corn Exchange – BIGGAR
6th – Big Comfy Bookshop – COVENTRY
10th – The Stables – MILTON KEYNES
12th – King’s Arms – MALMESBURY
14th – Mareel – SHETLAND
15th – Aith Hall – SHETLAND
23rd – St Cuthbert’s – SEAHOUSES
27th – The Musician – LEICESTER
28th – The Old Forge, Cranford
29th – Sofar Sessions, Kettering
30th – The Convent – STROUD
4th – The Drouthy Cobbler – ELGIN
6th – The Queen’s Hall (The Men From Leith) – EDINA
7th – Milngavie Folk Club – MILNGAVIE
21st – Ventnor Arts Club – ISLE OF WIGHT
29th – Under The Apple Tree Festival – OXFORDSHIRE
3rd – Coach House Studios, Wirksworth
4th – Brew In The Bog Festival – INVERNESS
17th-19th (Date TBC) – Solas Festival – PERTHSHIRE
15th Heb Celt – ISLE OF LEWIS