As golden fields lie just before him, American maven of immersion sources alternative sort of ambience to mine a folk vein.
It’s been 30 years since this artist served up his last cosmic epistle and started creating the mood in other spaces – painting, teaching, engineering – yet while Walter Holland’s previous sonic experiments, either with AMBER ROUTE or solo, were futurstic efforts of instrumental stripe, “Storyteller” is as down-to-earth as possible. A collection of mostly traditional English, Scottish and Irish songs, the record is a wondrous showcase of his ability to connect to the past and bring the British Isles’ grey past into the present without relying on rock idiom. More so, for all the perennials’ seriousness sculpted spectacularly by Holland and his kindred spirits, including usual suspect Steve Leonard on keyboards, their arrangements reveal his sense of humor, although one will have to look behind the words, the album’s conceptual axis, to distinguish Walter’s original “Amang The Bonnie Winding Banks” from “The Three Ravens” and other pieces of ancient lore the veteran’s exploring here.
These two tracks – the former featuring Mellotron alongside bagpipes; the latter weaving acoustic lace around electric core; both bearing no lyrics anyway – represent the performers’ progressive angle, whereas the grave, if gruff, “Poor Wayfaring Stranger” and a urban-hued delivery of Barry Moore’s “City Of Chicago” or the transparent reading of Ralph McTell’s “From Clare To Here” bare the cultural link between Old and New Worlds. Still, it’s the deeply felt, harpsichord-adorned “Fear a’ Bhàta” and the vibrant, highly-charged “Ca’ The Ewes” – anchored with Jon Camp’s elastic bass – that open the gates to the centuries-tested emotionality which Holland’s tapping into. While there’s no merriment in sight, the autumnal, communal shimmer of “Fareweel Tae Fiunary” is irresistible, the “We must up and haste away” chorus lingering in memory long after the tune’s been devoured by silence.
But before this moment, a couple of epics redress the drift: “Ride On” by wrapping glittery, yet twangy, balladry in delicate, new-age-like electronica, and “If I Was A Blackbird” by sticking to a minstrel template and moving one’s soul beyond the pale and into the realm of real beauty – leaving the listener awestruck. An indisputable contender for a “Folk Album of the Year” accolade, “Storyteller” is a masterpiece, its “Part 1” appendage giving hope for an equally breathtaking sequel.