Romantica – Shadowlands
At the Helm Records (UK) – 2017
Although Irish ex-pat Ben Kyle’s released a solo album and recorded a duet collection with Carrie Rodriguez, it’s been seven years since there’s been any new music from Minnesota-based Romantica. The long wait for Shadowlands, their fourth album, has paid dividends, however, with 14 songs that bear testament to their understated and introspective brand of Americana.
As the title might suggest, the album muses on the darkness in which we often find ourselves living, but how the experiences can strengthen and purify, leading to a greater awareness of who we are. As such, Let The Light Go Through You is a fabulous way to begin, a reflective number about boyhood friendship, with aching pedal steel and a hint of Cohen to the refrain “singing hallelujah as the light goes through ya” as it unfolds a troubled path.
The need for light in the darkness is there too on Harder To Hear, a gradually swelling lament about how “It’s getting harder to hear my heart these days. Harder to hear my heart there is much culture in the way…harder to hear the truth there is so much money in the way…harder to hear from God there is so much religion in the way…harder to hear the hope there is so much journalism in the way.” Again supported by wistful pedal steel, he sings “Somebody save me, somebody shine a light on this world tonight.” And again on the country soul seeping through the veins of Give Your Heart a Shelter, he sings of waiting until the light shines through.
After this laid back opening, the band kick things up a notch for Cecil Ingram Conor, a piano pumping rock n rolling gospel boogie in tribute to Gram Parsons, sliding into their own cosmic country with Lonely Star, a tumbling, harmonica-streaked addition to the travelling singer canon.
Rather than itemise all of the tracks, of which over half clock in at four or more minutes, let me direct you to some of the other particular standouts (though there’s nothing here where the quality dips), first up being the six minute decidedly Cohenesque Here It Comes. Equally stripped back, Buffalo Bill is a poignant lament of loss as Kyle sings “Oh my God, where did all the Indians go?”, the line about how “you made a peep show out of the old Wild West” addressing the commercialisation of heritage and culture.
Blue Heart is another lively uptempo country shuffle, a mood contrast to the ticking country rhythms of St Paul City Lights, a love letter to the uplifting power of music where “everybody’s dancing under the bar light to the sound of rock and roll, the local band is playing country songs, everybody wants to sing along.”
The album ends with Shady Bass, a rhythmically frisky, whistling playful nostalgic memory of his Irish childhood, cycling to the local store to buy a titular can of shandy for his brother, that spins out into dreams of growing up, having kids and being able to “sit down on my bed drink my shandy bass.” As Peter Sarstedt once observed, without darkness there is no light, and here the light shines through.
Out Now and available via Amazon