Tag Archives: guitar fingerpicking

July 2016 – upcoming nu-folk gigs in England – Felix M-B on tour with Lorkin O’Reilly and Lewis Barfoot (July 10th to 17th); plus a note on Sylva Kay

9 Jul

Some notes previewing a Tigmus acoustic tour passing through England this coming week…

* * * * * * * *

Still only eighteen, Derby singer-songwriter Felix Mackenzie-Barrow – better known as Felix M-B – is already tipped as a future star of acoustic rock, and it’s not difficult to see why. The Jeff Buckley comparisons have come flocking, as they always do for good-looking young-white-male hopes with an acoustic guitar and a way with a commanding falsetto when they need it.

For me, though, the comparisons are a little off beam. Felix is by no means enslaved to the wail; not another in the line of anxious high-tenor clones aiming for its flaming hoops. If he has to be Jeffified, let it be for his boiling post-Page rhythm guitar with its flint-and-harps tone; for the way he can dance that guitar, like an elegant fencer, around some of the shifting, bullish meters within his songs. As a singer, he’s slightly – and thankfully – short of that assertive, archangelic (and to me, sometimes cold) Buckley edge. Under its smooth edges, it’s warmer and less elevated, closer at times to the incantatory yearnings and yelps of a Mike Scott or Van Morrison, or (whenever a little country seeps in) to Gram Parsons; or to a less pickled take on Chris Thompson of The Bathers. Whenever Felix wraps his melodic threads in a rippling transported melisma, he’s also much more reminiscent of Tim Buckley than of his gilded son.

As for the songs, so far they’re remarkably mature – involved, ruminative and harmonically adventurous explorations of love, connection and conscience rather than the gawky narcissistic three-chord blasts you’d expect from a teenage early starter. As of yet, it’s unclear where this surprising depth comes from. Perhaps it’s self-demurral at play, but Felix’s backstory doesn’t seem much more than “nice boy learns piano for many years, picks up guitar in mid-teens and two years later makes a record”. Perhaps he’s just one of those diffident, delightful natural songwriters, able to pick up on stories and ideas from elsewhere and magically transform them without letting himself get in the way.

Perhaps the answer lies in other background textures. Felix grew up with parents who ran the self-sufficient mobile theatre company Oddsocks (who used to tour Britain on the back of a transforming, swiss-army-knife of a cart which doubled as transport and ever-morphing play set), while he himself is a thoughtfully precocious alumnus of Derby Youth Theatre. It might be this that’s made him such a canny transmuter of tradition and style; such a promising inhabiter of diverse stories.


Felix’s current Tigmus-boosted tour dates are as follows:

As noted above, Felix is teaming up with other young songwriters en route – so here’s some more about them.

22 year old Lorkin O’Reilly released his debut EP, ‘After The Thaw’, last year. Nominally Scottish, with a youth spent on one side or the other of the Borders (with rangings into the Highlands plus a stint down in Brighton), he’s now made a home and a marriage in Poughkeepsie, New York State.

It’s difficult not to notice how Lorkin’s peripatetic shifting life (partly brought on by an unsettled and shifting adolescence) has fed into his music, which is partly inspired by that of John Martyn (another songwriter divided between Scotland and England to traumatic effect and artistic impact). His song Alba explores his ambivalence about the recent deepening schism between the two countries: he describes and delivers it more as an abstract “storm warning” than a rallying call or hand-wringing tract. Nick Drake, Phil Cook, American country-blues and British folk also inform his work, in which his softly mesmeric voice and lone guitar move through slow, Scottish moodclouds at a slithering, sliding pace, sometimes gently gilded by slide and resonator.



 
Despite her own Irish/English background, there don’t appear to be similar complexities in the work of Lewis Barfoot. On spec and on evidence, her debut EP ‘Catch Me’ is singer-songwriter fare pitched at an assured soft and wholesome level – not bland as such, but undeniably comfortable in itself. She works with an uncomplicated loveliness of sound that’s smoothly crafted, waxed and finished, and which follows an unruffled mood (lightly decorated by its Irish roots and, on one occasion by some throw-rug drapings of Maori choir). As edgeless as a high-street cafe-latte, it also makes the ideal soundtrack to one. There’s an underlying murmur of stability in these songs, whether they’re dealing with love or landscape,


 
A little more delving reveals that Lewis is more substantial than these songs suggests. A busy polymath, she’s self-propelled and organised enough to have her own “summer of Sundays” tour dovetailing into this one. Before going solo three years ago, she was a member of Gaelic a cappella quintet Rún; and like Felix, she’s also got a theatrical background, maintaining a parallel career as an actress on film, television and fringe theatre (using the latter to fertilise her theatrical writing and conceptualising). With all of this behind her, it seems a shame that what she’s currently offering is lovely but cosy acoustic-evening entertainment with a high-boutique gloss to it: certainly these initial songs lack the playful wit and sense of enquiry which goes into her original stage work.


 
For now, go along for the sleek craft and gently-cupped warmth, and hope that more of Lewis unfolds into her music over time. Here are her remaining summer dates beyond this tour:

  • The Horniman Museum, 100 London Road, Forest Hill, London, SE23 3PQ, England, Sunday 10th July 2016, 12.00 pm (noontime show, following which she’ll sprint to Bristol to catch up with Felix and Lorkin for the evening gig)
  • The Bicycle Shop, 17 St Benedicts Street, Norwich, NR2 4PE, England, Sunday 17th July 2016
  • The Blue Man, 8 Queens Road, Brighton, BN1 3WA, England, Sunday 24th July 2016

* * * * * * * *

It was a shame to see that Silva Kay has had to pull out of the tour… but it would also be a shame to waste what I wrote about her before she dropped off the billing.

A singer, guitarist, looper and occasional drummer, Sylva has been creating songs since childhood, growing up as she did in the bosom of an artistic family (and being encouraged by writers, photographer and crafters of all stripes). A self-taught self-producer and a youthful veteran of several bands on both sides of the Atlantic and on both coasts of America (including Ra Ra Rabbit, IC and American City), she performs songs which touch on the territories of Joanna Newsom, Ash Ra Tempel, Dayna Kurtz and the dream-permeable moods of My Bloody Valentine. Often performing while surrounded by an arc of miscellaneous percussion, pedals, sound sources and electronics, her music remains centred around her voice and guitar, changing the moods and patterns within its dreamy folktronic format, using cunning loop-pedal work to establish a folk chorale of spontaneous backing vocals and to shift back and forth into trance-like psychedelic moods, moments of skipping indie-pop and stretches of acoustic soul/r’n’b grooves.

Unusually for a latterday loop musician, there’s plenty of space in the performance. The looped parts sound as if they’ve been thought out architecturally on the fly; a semi-spontaneous foundation on which Silva can mount wandering explorations of situations, reflections and reaction. Within the space of a single song, she can sound both independent and love-lorn, interiorised and reaching out, mysterious and readable.

The good news is that, like Lewis, Sylva is determinedly self-propelled, touring out in monthly ripples from her Oxford base: so despite her having withdrawn from this tour, it won’t be too long before there’s an opportunity to see her again.


 

June-July 2016 – upcoming gigs – Sharron Kraus and Gillian Chadwick’s psych-folk duo Rusalnaia on tour in England with Nick Jonah Davis, Arianne Churchman, Fuzzy Hell, Sproatly Smith and Frances Chang making showings (20th June – 10th July)

18 Jun


 

Fresh off their appearance at the remarkable Sin Eater Festival (which I’ll really have to pay some better attention to, next year), psychedelic folk duo
Rusalnaia embark on a short English tour this coming week.

A sisterly alliance of acclaimed Anglo-American dark-folkster Sharron Kraus and prog/neopsych-influenced American folkie Gillian Chadwick (of Ex Reverie and Woodwose), the duo originally took shape while both women were neighbours in Fishtown, Philadelphia. Named after a placatory festival for mischievous, tickling and murderous Slavic water-nymphs, citing such touchstones as Comus, Trees, Mellow Candle, Ingar Bergman and Jefferson Airplane as influences, and self-described as “a luminously pagan witches brew”, the project is a close-bound duet of voices and (mostly) acoustic guitars. Softly-sung, it limns its lovely and carefully-crafted songs with a halo of harmonies and a mood of anticipation (and, on record at least, dashes of electric acid lead guitar, dulcimer, penny whistles and goat’s-nail shakers).

The imminent second Rusalnaia album ‘Time Takes Away’ is a rockier affair than the debut. In order to perform it live, Gill and Sharron will be backed by Sheffield drummer Guy Whittaker (Magpies, Big Eyes Family Players, Sarah Smout) and by Nottingham acoustic/electric guitarist Nick Jonah Davis (an acclaimed modal player in a mingled Bert Jansch/Nick Drake/John Fahey tradition, who usually plays either solo or as a member of the Fains duo alongside violinist Jo Cormack). Between them, Sharron and Nick will also be covering most of the tour’s support slots as solo performers.




 

Tour dates are as follows:

There will also be two further Rusalnaia festival appearances – at the free Leigh Folk Festival, Leigh-on-Sea, on Saturday 25th June; and at the SoL Party event near Hawkhurst in Kent (some time between Friday 8th and Sunday 10th July, during which time Sharron will be performing another solo set).

* * * * * * * *

En route, Rusalnaia will be linking up with some other, fascinating folk performers. The Hereford show features (in addition to a DJ set by Jus-Jay) Sproatly Smith, a self-propelled Welsh Borders institution led by guitarist and sonic visionary Ian Smith and multi-instrumentalist Matt King. This acoustic/electric collective create enthralling music inspired by rural life, ancient landscape, sundry traditional piecings (they draw on all manner of British Isles folk), Anglican metaphysics (they’ve written a whole album of Thomas Traherne poetry settings) and transitional psychedelic experiences.

The Sproatly sound is that of hilltop trips, in either sense – they sound like wide-open rural receivers, drawing in feelings, events and memories across multiple times and from multiple simultaneous perspectives. They spin out booming resonant instrumentals; hums and fragments and drones; tangles of spidery guitar and banjo; drifting childlike backward-reverbed vocals, nursery rhymes and field recordings, while still touching the earth with one toe (via singer Sarah’s anchoring of words and melody). Sitting at the heart of a growing Hereford scene of exploratory traditional musicians; they’ve redubbed their home country “Weirdshire”. When you listen to what their surroundings have inspired in their music, you can entirely empathize.


At the Sheffield show – dedicated to the summer solstice – one of the event organisers, Rob Lee, will be adding a DJ set drawing on “ethnographic recordings, velvet-clad Canterbury scenesters, private-press vanity folk, analogue madrigals and pagan jazz.” The folk remit is expanded even further with the addition of performance artist Arianne Churchman, who explores British folk traditions and rituals and reinterprets the same into modern life. Not a musician per se, she uses film, sound sculpture and costumed dancing in her works; so expect something a little immersive which won’t necessarily stay on the stage. Here are a couple of videos – one dealing with her Metal Harvest project and one recording a previous collaboration with Sharron Kraus.



 

Possibly encouraged by promoters Tor Press (who’ve already got a reputation for presenting and championing interesting music in and around their Yorkshire fastness) the Todmorden show teams up the travelling Rusalnaia circus with a couple of artists from New York State’s DIY label Life On An Island.

I’m not sure of the identity of the woman who travels under the name of Fuzzy Hell, nor of where she parks her guitar: the information which I can pick up suggests Long Island beginnings but a possible self-chosen, on/off exile in rural Ireland. All I can go on are the songs, which are wonderful. Sharply observant, witty, detached and sometimes sad; their spare, precise fingerpicking seasoned with sonic reversals, sound-aura or tape warble, their tone lies somewhere between Liz Phair and Dorothy Parker, dipping into classical legend, contemporary barlife and timeless personal complications with an equal and universal aplomb and without floundering self-indulgence. The kind of bird-bright-eyed songwriter whom you’d yearn to meet, but would be terrified of making a fool of yourself in front of.





 

Frances Chang is currently best known as the co-fronter of New York neo-shoegaze band Giant Peach, whose insouciant guitar-fuzzed alt.rock songs have garnered them plenty of praise in recent years. Her work as songwriter, however, started around a decade ago with her own bedroom solo project Neato Fleets (which apparently informs this current solo outing). Sonically, these songs can travel quite a distance from traditional or even psychedelic folk – electric from the off, the technique often a lo-fi indie scrub, the presentation sometimes undergoing casual, almost unconscious intensifications into deafening distortion. But the underpinnings are folk, and are evidence of the sensibilities of a born singer-songwriter – melodic, open lyrical examinations and sharings of intense, expanding feelings, and of making sense of the inrush of sensation when you seem to be missing a thicker skin. It’d be interesting to see what she makes of this different live setting – a thousand miles from home, in an English market town, in a mostly acoustic milieu.



 

February 2016 – upcoming gigs – interlocking British tours by Yorkston Thorne Khan, Toby Hay/Jim Ghedi and Laura Moody offer Anglo-Indian crossover folk, fingerstyle guitar, folk baroque and cello bewitchment.

10 Feb

I didn’t catch up with this next tour until a couple of its January dates had gone by, but it’s still worth catching up with the rest of it:

Yorkston Thorne Khan, 2015

Yorkston/Thorne/Khan are an experimental group that includes James Yorkston (hailed as one of the most “influential singer/songwriters on the Scottish folk scene”), Suhail Yusuf Khan (award winning sarangi player and classical singer from New Delhi) and Jon Thorne (best known as jazz double bass player with electro outfit Lamb). The trio are currently touring to support their collaborative debut album ‘Everything Sacred’, which was released in mid-January 2016.

This is Scottish-Irish-Indian-English music in the raw – Yorkston’s familiar steel guitar strings pulled, pushed and bent into more unfamiliar acoustic drones, the bass dropping anchors through the floor. Rather than world music per se, this sounds more idiosyncratic, a temporary structure bivouacking by the side of the indie-folk, art music tradition, while its widening horizons extend back to the Sixties heyday of the Incredible String Band, and forward to this singular album’s satellite orbit over the folk music, Indian classical and indie music of today – all these musical ley lines threaded into a new kind of eclectic, domestic setting.

James: “Playing together as Yorkston/Thorne/Khan, we tackle a wide array of different sounds and songs. Alongside pieces of our own, there’s a fair chunk of improvisation, plus covers of Ivor Cutler’s Little Black Buzzer and Lal Waterson’s Song For Thirza. Jon’s jazz background definitely comes to the fore, as does Suhail’s devotional singing and outstanding sarangi playing. I just do my best to keep up…”


 

Dates:

REVIEW – Toby Hay: ‘Guitar I (The Stairwell Sessions)’ EP, 2012 (“a sense of placement and location”)

12 Jan
Toby Hay: 'Guitar I (The Stairwell Sessions)' EP

Toby Hay: ‘Guitar I (The Stairwell Sessions)’ EP

In a faithless world (in my own faithless world, anyway) one of the few things that can substitute for a religious experience is finding a place where sound can be transfigured. This could be as simple as a random encounter with a naturally-shaped space that has a whisper, or as calculated as deliberately finding somewhere in a newer concrete structure where the right note in a scale suddenly booms like amplified doo-wop. It might explain why there’s a primal pleasure about singing in the shower – that embrace of the feeling that you’re in the right location for the ritual of sound to run its course.

Toby Hay (the brother of Tomorrow We Sail’s Tim Hay) made full use of this feeling when recording this debut EP of acoustic guitar. It helped that Tim’s own stairwell, at home in Leeds, provided the ideal sound. One evening – while Tim, all ears, manned the console – Toby sat down on the stairs and recorded then and there. Still only 21, his guitar technique is already fully formed and his playing strikingly visual (it’s hardly surprising to find that he also works as a filmmaker). That sense of placement and location stretches further than his choice of where to sit down and hear the natural reverb, and into the fabric of his music.

The inspirations are immediately recognisable. A fingerstyle player, Toby’s music is firmly in the ornate British folk-baroque approach, continuing a line begun by Davy Graham, Bert Jansch and Martin Carthy in the ’60s and continued, over the years, by players including Michael Hedges and Martin Simpson. The EP aligns Toby’s own compositions alongside his variations on and extrapolations of standards, to the point where only the familiarity of a tune separates them.

For Variations On O’Carolans’ Dream, Toby immerses himself in the world of Irish baroque harp music, reworked through the guitar. While here he’s following in the footsteps of the likes of Duck Baker, his performance is confident, revelling in the guitar sonorities which add spice to the transposition. His thumbwork in the bass is strong – especially in the second section, where he chops toothily into the bassline – and the riffling harp-like flourishes which he brings to his fingerwork offer something back to the original. By the third section, the baroque structures have melded seamlessly with an Indian-inflected pulsealong.

As you might have guessed from the title, And We’ll Take A Cup Of Kindness Yet is Toby’s extrapolation of Auld Lang Syne. In some respects it’s the most straightforward piece on the EP, travelling from a sleepy, breezy statement of the original melody before running away into double-time. From its start as a song of sitting down, drinking and remembering, it’s transmuted into a fast-flowing travelling piece, heavy on the double-stopping and the thumbing of bass notes, before slowing again into a classical inspired study which doesn’t so much recapitulate the original tune as revive it.

Of the three Hay originals, Platform 16 is another travelling song. Its intro bounces and rings out on high harmonics: as the music wheels onwards, Toby’s sliding, percussive attack on the notes as they’re made out is so sharp that it sounds like pickwork. Night Terror Blues is another demonstration of quiet excellence. Winding up out of hushed beginnings, it becomes a strong-stepping baroque blues. Stabbing in the treble, there’s a slithering in the bass range – like a slipping foot on the run.

The remaining original – Where The River’s All Rain And Roses – takes its title from Jack Kerouac. More explicitly, it comes from a dusktime description of swishing across the Mississippi river on the bridge at Port Allen, Louisiana in “a misty pinpoint darkness.” Kerouac’s original passage is an undulant swirl of description – a journey through foglight and dropping evening captured in smudged yellows and purples, in the swings of a sharply curving drive. Yet Toby’s own piece has none of the arresting jazz stimulus which one might expect from a Kerouac tribute. Nor does it try to recapture that American freeway motion; of driving through the astonishing scenery and through the liberty of the rolling roads into revelation.

Instead, Toby seems to be taking his cue not from the motion or the self-absorption, but from Kerouac’s descriptions of what he passes through en route – the textures of the mists, the way he hails the Mississippi as “a washed clod in the rainy night… a dissolving, a riding of the tide down the eternal waterbed, a contribution to brown foams, a voyaging past endless vales and trees and levees…” For once, the music hovers rather than drives. Over a billowing airblown shruti box drone (the EP’s lone overdub), Toby picks out an elegant Gymnopedie-via-Ralph Towner progression, its melody carried in the bass and midrange. Stepping back and forth, it maintains its chords via high, clipped double-stopping. When a new sequence emerges midway and, chord by chord, rides up to a sparse and ecstatic point of grace, it does so with the same pointillistic pacing. Droplets in the fog, light snagged in vapour, or moments of eternity seen through movement – whatever this brings to the mind, it captures a position in time and in space that’s mystifying. For a moment, just like that moment when the sound in the stairwell deepens to a subtle boom.

Toby Hay: ‘Guitar I (the stairwell sessions)’
Toby Hay (self-released, no catalogue number or barcode)
CD/download EP
Released: 13th December 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

Toby Hay online:
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Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: “Waiting For The Storm”

REVIEW – Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: ‘Waiting For The Storm’ album, 2012 (“tin roofs, heat and restlessness”)

9 Oct

Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: 'Waiting For The Storm'

Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: ‘Waiting For The Storm’


Two guitars, two hushed voices, a looming double bass and a room that moves. That’s all that’s needed.

Mark Mulholland and Craig Ward go way back. In the 1980s, both were ungrizzled Scottish freshmen; teenaged guitarists coming up through roots music gigs in Glasgow and Edinburgh. Their paths have intersected many a time since then, while both clocked up the years and the experience – Mark with a brace of projects including the Berlin Americana band Two Dollar Bash, Craig most famously with dEUS (and spinoffs like The Love Substitutes), While this fuller collaboration was mooted in 2007, it wasn’t recorded until 2010 and 2011, and then went unreleased for a further year. In the meantime the intent hasn’t gone stale. If anything, it’s aged like a good whisky. This album might have been a while in coming, but it’s happily unstuck from the demands of time – just like any long friendship of the kind where a phone call and a kept date in a bar wipes away the years of separation.

Mark and Craig are upfront about their intentions. They’re reviving that strand of British “folk baroque” as played solo in the ’60s by Davy Graham and Bert Jansch, developed by John Renbourn and Danny Thompson in Pentangle, and performed in a shroud of mystique and withdrawal by Nick Drake. ‘Waiting For The Storm’ utterly recaptures that Witchseason glimmer – timeless, intimate and immediate, with the air listening in and the feeling that the songs are at the forefront of a push of story and message.

As guitarists and as singers, Craig and Mark are perfectly matched. Acoustic fingerpicking styles knit together in a generous skein of give-and-take, with each man providing varied electric textures as and where needed. Their quiet, rough-finished voices blur and separate in sighed harmonies, tinged with weariness, a little foreboding and some scarred-knuckle gentleness. Between them, Hannes d’Hoine plays double bass as if it were a straining mast, conjuring up deep thrums, solid gutsy plucking and ghostly bowed atmospherics. It’s very much a three-cornered exchange – almost telepathic in the players’ instinct to play just what is needed and no more.

As for the roots of the record, they drift – and no wonder. Though Mark and Craig are Scottish by origin, they’re wanderers by nature. The stoic discomfort blues of A Strange Place traces lightly over the angst of this lifestyle; the menacing weightlessness of its temporary, torn-up settlings. “Anyone entering this place they might say, / a strange place in which we belong…/ It’s a strange place we do run to, / a strange place to which we do run.” The slithering folk riffs and Simon & Garfunkel harmonies of Something On The Breeze raise up something more of home, via a Lowlands song of roaming and departure. (“Blowing through the open door that I have just walked through, / blowing me along to something new… / Looking forward to looking back on the things I’ve left behind, / somewhere a little further down the line.”)

Under even the dreamier-sounding songs, there’s a Scottish feel of hard lines: an undercurrent of poverty and menace dealt with stoically (“I see the cops on every corner, / people waiting ready to run. / Blue lights flashing out a warning – / someone’ll get hurt before the morning comes.”) Yet most of the underpinnings of the record come from one particular location: Mark’s current home of Port-au-Prince, in Haiti. Throughout ‘Waiting For The Storm’, Haiti breathes itself steamily into the mood and the music – mountains and stagnant creeks; tin roofs, heat and restlessness. There’s an occult foreboding here too, perhaps brought in by the business of living under the threat of capricious flooding, of drumming rain, or of violent passions swelling out of control. The answers flicker through the songs, half-seen, or viewed full in the face for an uneasy moment.

Some of it’s more relaxed; simply sketches and shadings of place and time. The winding sea currents of All The Doors Are Open (with Hannes’ grasping bass anchoring the surges of meter) invoke summer-struck stupor and an urge for motion. “All the doors are open, cars go past outside. / Won’t you take me with you, take me for a ride?… / I gulp down the icy water, drowning in the heat. / Hills lean over the hazy sea, wheels turning to the beat.” The instrumental Black Sail travels in a wave-roll and a dark minor key, telling a wordless story: moods shift weather-wise like bands of sunset and lowering clouds, the accelerations and slowings of the guitars tracked point-by-point by Hanne’s bowed bass.

With the title track, however, more threatening moods gather. “See the vinyl spinning its strange pattern in my head / and I can’t help thinking about something somebody said…” Like a brooding canvas, Waiting For The Storm uses the old expressionist motif of threatening weather to illustrate roils in the spirit, but leaves us hanging and expectant. “The sky is getting darker and the glass begins to fall. / The flicker of the candle’s throwing shadows on the wall… / Siren in the distance, the evening air is cool. / The bottle’s almost empty and the ashtray’s nearly full. / Waiting for a moment when it all begins to spin – / voices in the darkness, waiting for the storm to begin.”

Although the Haitian setting offers ravaged scenery and wild elements aplenty, Mark and Craig are ultimately too subtle just to use it as an exotic stage. In their lean words, they imply that most of the trouble a nomad might find in places like these might actually have been brought along in his own baggage. Secret Places, certainly, is caught up in its own space – one of obsessive passion, affirming “there’s no after, no before, /each time we pass through this door. / Nothing matters anymore – / each moment burns more fiercely than the last.”

Haiti gets to speak for itself as well. Amid arco bass rumbles and a stew of electric guitar atmospherics and acoustic webbing, Les Belles Promesses sees Mark, Craig and Hanne take a step back so that Haitian laureate Frankétienne can take centre stage. Working in smouldering wreathes of text from his own ‘Voix Marassa’, the old man recites and declaims in an impassioned, mesmeric French Creole like a voudoun Baudelaire, calling out razors and toadstones, sickness and fire, rocks and struck matches. “L’acidite de l’ombre… l’obsession des long voyage impermanences au bout du sexe, la passion du danger dans le sang, la fascination de riske… au-dessus du desastre.” Even at its height it remains honest, clear about the swings of raw fraught instinct.

So it is that the remaining two songs are left to their own devices. Icy Shivers comes from the armpit of a bad night – a circling lick; scribbling, edgy double bass harmonics; and moonlight-drop electric guitar, both ominous and omen-ous. “Things that crawl and things that bite / my thoughts as black as the sky tonight – / oh, it’s a long, long time until the dawn… / Dead of night the city sleeps – / waters still, a bargain deep.” Elsewhere, in Watching You Sleep, the devils are scratching away at a hard-won peace. Mark sings, as soft as anything, the pillow talk of a devoted lover – “you, your head lying on my shoulder, hear you breathing soft and clear. / I don’t care about tomorrow just as long as you are here,” – but hints at darker things abandoned in order to find and keep this haven. Even if they’re not stalking after him, there’s still a haunting. “I put the key in my pocket / and walked away from what came before. / A tune was running through my head / a song I can’t remember anymore. / I heard the sounds that go round the valley / hints of something far behind. / Something I wasn’t aware of losing / now I keep on trying to find.”

As other people’s violence stirs in the street, Mark’s narrator feels the pull of it and with a quiet, heartbreaking determination he asserts his love over rage. “I don’t want to go and get in a fight / I just want to stay with you tonight… / Don’t want to make nobody cry, / I just want to watch you where you lie.” The words are simple or even banal on the surface. The sentiments behind them, as sung, are subtly devastating. A reedy fuzz of electric guitar solo, one of the only ones on the record, seals the deal with hulking, sweating fingers.

There is an eventual respite from this darkness. Full of chuckling mandolins, The Six O’Clock Whistle is a jaunty folk instrumental with a hint of a reel (plus a nod and a wink to the childhood innocence of ‘Chigley‘). Sitting at the end of the record, it lifts the pressing atmosphere of the rest of the songs, drawing you away from the mesmeric night of memories, fancies, booze and shadows. Still, it’s the latter that remains with you: a baroque spell of sketchy lines, disquiet and stirred emotions, with some lines flapping free and others coiled too tight. A magical listen.

Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward: ‘Waiting For The Storm’
Cannery Row Records, CRR 1217(826863121627)
Jezus Factory Records JF034 (826863121627)
CD/download album
Released: 3rd September 2012

Buy it from:
Cannery Row Records (CD only), Jezus Factory Records (CD only) or Bandcamp (download only).

Mark Mulholland & Craig Ward online:
Facebook Bandcamp

Mark Mulholland online:
Homepage Facebook MySpace Bandcamp

Craig Ward online:
MySpace Last FM

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