Adrian Nation – Anarchy and Love
Laburnum Bridge Records – 20 October 2017
Hailing from Holland-on-Sea, near Clacton, this is Adrian Nation’s third studio album (his fourth release in all) and I once wrote he’d always have an audience to pack out the clubs but was sadly unlikely to make the crossover into the folk mainstream. This might change the latter.
Writing and recording on electric guitar for the first time, albeit it still in an acoustic style, there’s a more muscular approach evident, particularly with the addition of Joel Schwartz from Birds of Chicago on the second guitar. There’s also a Scottish influence to be heard, most specifically on the opening track, a fabulous six-minute cover of Runrig’s Rocket To The Moon, a song about the migration from the Highlands to Canada, featuring Nation on mandolin and backing vocals from the All Nation’s Choir.
In addition to this, the atmospheric and lyrically reflective Benderloch Stone, featuring Jonathon Potts on low whistle and Hannah Fisher on fiddle, is a song about the pull of home however great the distance. It was written partly on the shores of the titular Scottish village and partly in on the road in Alberta while touring Canada.
The lyrics mention his father who passed away just before the release of the previous album, and it’s a subject to which he returns again on the part spoken lump-in-the-throat poignant River In The Rain with its memories of childhood, the night he died and promises made and kept.
Understandably, there’s a strong reflective air about the album which addresses both the personal and the political, balancing between dark clouds the light of hope. That’s specifically the case with When You Love, a sort of road song fingerpicked on 12 string guitar, as he sings how “sometimes love develops in a dark room, but beauty always bursts in seasons from the gloom.” One of his biggest influences has been Bruce Cockburn and his spirit can be heard potently both here and on the semi-spoken title-track written during and recalling the protests in Athens in 2012, inspired by graffiti that read “we are the happy future, fight now.” Featuring the striking line “if you clench your fist, it won’t fit the glove”, it’s a taut, nervy, claustrophobic number that calls to mind two Cockburn numbers, Postcards From Cambodia and Call It Democracy, and is, appropriately enough, complemented by its equally smouldering and similarly structured thematic companion piece, Dying of Democracy, written some three years earlier, about how it’s the leaders not the people of a nation that are the problem.
If those evoke Cockburn, Nation also intentionally prompts another musical reference on With Or Without Me, an inspirational song about striving for freedom (“I’ve seen you try to sing inside your chains”), the song swelling midway and ebbing away on the U2-echoing repeated ‘with or without me’ refrain.
Given that he’s been feted for his guitar playing, it’s only natural to find some instrumentals, three to be exact; the 12 string walking rhythm blues Our Friend From The East, which given the title, perhaps deliberately calls to mind People Are Strange, the jubilant Carpe Meridianus, also on 12 string, and the equally intricate Ezzu where another influence, Isaac Guillory, is evident.
Of the two other numbers, one is an original, one traditional. The former, Our Last Goodbye, a circular guitar riff song of parting and a hope of reunion, has a hints of early Dylan by way of Ralph McTell, while the latter, closing as it opened, on a Scottish note, is a simple Knopfleresque six-minute setting of, A Man’s A Man – Robbie Burns’ call for unity and brotherhood, with Potts on fiddle and a closing spoken-word reading by Campbell Cameron.
His previous albums have all been first rate, but this is unquestionably his masterpiece. It deserves to be championed as such.
Photo via EPK http://adriannation.com/