Cherry Red 2015
Out of tragedy wonder comes, and a wide-eyed observation of the ways of this world unfolds from the Midlands meadows.
It could have been the end for this band’s three-decade journey, when bassist Ben Brain died in 2012, but the cache of fantastic songs he left behind and the ensemble’s support set his widow, singer Joy Strachan-Brain, on a mission to deliver the late artist’s legacy, including artwork, to public. That’s the dark side of the “Moon” that, otherwise – even in the finale of “Man In White” with its 9/11 heavy backdrop – is a vigorously life-affirming work. More so, the music’s intimate undercurrent reveals a rootsy celebration of native soil, the album’s centrepiece “England” unfurling into a rapturous anthem whence folk-rock branches out to bring closer other stylistic elements.
Flowing in on warm vocal harmonies, “Quicksilver” gradually grows in emotional scope to introduce the mercurial drift of it all, as a seemingly homespun tapestry gets embroidered with Tony Kelsey’s mandolin and punctured with Matt Davies’ bass. Thus, the tribal chant elevating “Nine Mile Camp” contrasts the stately nostalgia of “Tumbling Years” which rolls on Dave Bailey’s piano and falls at the edge of desperation. Yet, the song’s historical hue aside, “Poppy Fields” fathoms a different kind of depth, one of love, with its orchestral caress and Bev Bevan’s percussion peppering the acoustic strum. The unplugged gentleness carries “Hollywood Blue” whose transparency is enchanting and enchanted at the same time, the slight critique of America notwithstanding, before the country chime of “Twister” gives the picture a humorous slant.
Delicacy reigns over this record – that’s the titular brush’s touch. Here’s the silver light to bathe in and a joie de vivre. Long may their quill flutter.