Fraser Anderson‘s fourth album Under the Cover of Lightness came as a welcome surprise. Until last week his name was new to me, (despite a previous Folk Radio UK album review and interview) and as I read through the PR details accompanying the album I wondered, vaguely, how many more times this year I’ll hear favourable comparisons to acoustic music legends of the 1970’s. Any doubts I had were, however, washed away in an instant, and I have to admit to being hooked from the very first moments of Under The Cover Of Lightness.
Originally from Edinburgh, singer/songwriter Fraser Anderson’s music has yet to find a wide audience in the U.K. despite releasing three albums that have earned him progressively increased coverage and acclaim. After his debut album, And The Girl with the Strawberry, was released, the warmth and depth of his music encouraged comparisons with John Martyn, Nick Drake and many others. His relocation with his young family to rural France in 2004, though, while allowing the realisation of a pastoral idyll, meant his musical earnings had to be supplemented by more traditional hard graft. Live performance remained an important part of his life and in 2007 he was able to record a second, again acclaimed, album – Coming Up For Air. Bob Harris and Danny Thomson became fascinated by Fraser’s music, sessions followed and in 2010 Fraser independently released his third album, Little Glass Box.
And until 2014, that was about it for Fraser. He continued to play for, and sell albums to, his live French audience, but not build a significant following. Then German label Membran discovered Fraser’s music, a deal was signed, Fraser and his family moved back to the U.K, settling in Bristol. At last some serious weight was placed behind his 2010 album.
Things have moved on apace since then. Thanks to a successful crowd funding campaign, Fraser was able to take a host of new songs, and a fine gathering of musicians, to Real World Studios last November to record Under The Cover Of Lightness.
For this album Fraser’s production results in a more complex approach to the music than Little Glass Box, but opening with Simple Guidance, the album appears to continue in the same vein. A soothing wash of brass and organ heralds a whispering, delightful vocal. Greg Lawson’s quietly soaring violin trades warm harmonies with Matthew Hawke and Tom Wilding’s brass, as Fraser lies back in the sun, listening to jazz, and serenading his love.
For the second track, Beautiful Eyes, there’s a far more sombre start. Haunting keyboards and electric guitar, courtesy of Ali Ferguson and Liam Saunders, help Fraser (and Bex Baxter in the questioning chorus) sketch a bleak Parisian backdrop for the story of a lonely soul; in a rain-soaked, trip-hop outing that opens wide the possibilities for the rest of the album. Fraser’s stories are accomplished and vivid. In Feel he watches a lost soul throw caution to the wind, perhaps enslaved by lust. Chris Agnew’s double bass hints at jazz themes while a distorted guitar wail is joined by Matthew Skoller’s dark harmonica. Or there’s Crying From My Heart – laden with strings and an especially mournful cello from Beth Porter. There’s a sense of unanswered questions and half-remembered trauma.
Although that darkness doesn’t prevail on the album, Fraser’s adept at putting it to good use. In Go On Wide (part 1) he drags himself from dreams amid syncopated synths, shrouding his poetic lyrics with a vocal melody and dark atmosphere that could almost be suited to a murder ballad. And then the sun shines – riparian samples lead to Go On Wide (part 2) and we float downstream on gentle guitar and a soft, searching vocal.
And if I lay here with you
Until I am old
Until I’m torn up and sold
Will I be who you see?
And if you’re left here
Without me by your side
Will you promise
To go on wide?
The Wind And The Rain opens with doubts; and with a soft vocal and guitar. Strings, alongside the occasional hiss of a cymbal add depth and then a beat arrives, alongside Ross Ainslie’s low whistle, to take everything in a new, positive direction.
Under The Cover Of Lightness is full of poetry, and the spoken word delivery of With You All is perhaps the clearest indication of Fraser’s ability. Over a slowly intensifying jazz club beat, there’s conflict in the music and cadence of the passionate quest for self-justification.
Spitting old bars written by wise old souls and
Given flight only on worn out paper under dim light
In time maybe the dancers will dance, but who am I?
With its slight suggestion of guitar behind the vocal, Please Let Go could hardly be more stripped back to start. There’s a palpable sense of remorse as the sound swells with strings, keyboards and percussion as the song charts, in beautifully constructed lyrics, the end of love.
In Rising Sons, the train like rhythm of the opening is compressed into a tunnel of sound from which it shoots into the light. Throughout the song there’s a constant, reassuring cello; and a soulful vocal that’s echoed in the keyboards.
I’d choose broken bones of over broken homes
I’m here for you my darling
I’d choose broken bones of over broken homes
I’m here for you my boy
It’s a positive and memorable note on which to close the album, with its promise of unconditional love, fearless protection.
In Under The Cover Of Lightness Fraser Anderson takes us from warm summer love to cold, bleak loneliness. With Allen Ginsberg on one shoulder and John Martyn on the other, he shares hope and despondency in equal measure. And he makes us long to savour every drop.
Perhaps one of the reasons Fraser’s less well known than he certainly should be, is that his music isn’t attention grabbing, it’s far more subtle than that – far too intricate to view from a distance. Come close, though, and you’ll be under its spell; once you’re drawn in it’s unlikely you’ll want to come out again. Fraser Anderson’s music has yet to find a wide audience in the U.K. If there’s any justice in this world, Under The Cover Of Lightness is about to change all that.
Under the Cover of Lightness is out now via Membran
Fraser is currently on tour in Italy but returns to the UK in June with dates that include How the Light Gets In Festival.