Talking Elephant 2021
Refracting his life via viva voce lens, English folk-rock doyen painstakingly paints existentialistic image of one’s inner world.
Camus and Toulouse-Lautrec, Pushkin and Tarkovsky, Godard and Ochs, Blake and Wilde: these are but a few of a few dozens creative geniuses whose words Ashley Hutchings weaves into the fabric of his ninety-ninth album – the most unusual of The Guv’nor’s offerings wherein he neither sings nor plays, yet vocally reigns o’er the record. It’s an aural puzzle of sorts, a poetic collage of eruditely uncovered quotes peppered with the veteran’s own spoken musings, while most of the musical background for his voice is provided and performed by his son Blair Dunlop and Jacob Stoney, their inobtrusive, sympathetic accompaniment emphasizing the inflections of Ashley’s tone and the meanings of what Hutching’s saying here.
These meanings often feel as deep as his enunciation, even though sometimes his puns hit the nail on the head, like “The Riot Of Spring” does, referring to, and literally describing, the disorder around the premiere of a certain Stravinsky classic, yet it’s all so arresting that the listener is bound to obey one of the album’s opening phrases – “Just walk beside me and be my friend” – and delve head first into the beckoning verbal abyss. There’s a melody concealed in his heartfelt reciting of “When My Son Is Grown” and the similarly themed “Guns And Roses” – embellished with delicate guitar strum and piano ripple – before “Move Over Oscar” arrives on the strings of Ruth Angell’s violin, and the radio-drama pairing of “Four Tattoo Sonnets” and “1987, 1994, 1999, 2020” marries the past to the present.
Through traditional tunes echoing in “Man’s Nobliest Frailty” – that’s as sparse as this piece’s title may suggest – and brief, if biting, statements filling “Half Saints, Half Rascals” to the solemn clang of ivories, Ashley channels his anger and sarcasm which target the hypocrisy of our era, whereas the enchanting strands of Angell’s “Earendel” propose a journey to a fairy-tale world, and the ruminative “It Is Not For The Want Of Will” has a chamber atmosphere to it. Still, the romantic “The Show Goes On” is bookended by the hilarious “Ice Cream” and “Fleas” – all followed by the majestic minuet “A Beautiful Mistake” giving the cycle’s finale an air of beguiling completeness.
The integrity on display has nothing to do with Tyger’s encyclopedism that allowed him to stitch a fresh context out of familiar lines and append his personal poetry to them; it’s Ashley Hutchings’ whole outlook on life that’s the underlying principles of his momentum here.