FIFTY3 FRIDAYS: MAKING TIME FOR LOVE
When your limited listening hours each week are focused on new music, and specifically on what to feature in this column, it is not always easy to find space to revisit audio delights from times past. When I do, it is surprising how often the artiste in question turns up in a new guise very soon after. Not that 2017 is that long ago but I happened to listen to Will Stratton’s album from that year, Rosewood Almanac, again the other week. Originally from California, the Hudson Valley, NY folk musician created a work of lasting beauty back then and it’s a record I heartily recommend. My review of it, which will tell you why, is still up on BestNewBands.
Photo of Will Stratton by Josh Goleman
Recalling what a fine singer and songsmith Will Stratton remains, I began to muse over what he might be up to now. I wasn’t quite ready to send a search party out but, strange but true, what came next was news of a new album, The Changing Wilderness, due on 7 May; his seventh full-length no less and his second for the Bella Union label. To announce it, he has shared “Tokens”, a first track taken from it, alongside a lyric video. So, prepare to be beguiled by a lengthy, chiming acoustic guitar-led intro before Stratton’s tenderly rich vocal timbre, takes supple, breathy charge.
“Tokens” softly reflects on those twin pillars of humanity, time and love, considering the inexorability of time and the redemption that love offers. Lyrically it is meticulously constructed and the musical dressing applied to the song is quietly elaborate. Along the way, the song hints at the wider themes of political turmoil, concern for the planet and personal struggles explored on the album. Ever thoughtful and challenging, Stratton has set a high bar once more. Fans of Susie Dent may also celebrate a word new to them, anthropocene, which appears in the lyrics referencing the age in which humans have made a significant impact on the earth. It’s a stark reminder that we are part of a complex global system and the evidence of our damage on it is before us.
Stratton’s record label, Bella Union, has another exceptional offering for us today. Lost Horizons is the collaboration between former Cocteau Twins’ multi-instrumentalist and Bella Union label founder, Simon Raymonde, and one of his self-confessed musical heroes, the drummer Richie Thomas. Their links go back to the early 80s when Thomas was with instrumental band Dif Juz who toured with the Cocteaus quite often. The pair eventually hooked up and produced an album, Ojalá, in late 2017 in collaboration with a host of outstanding guest singers including Hazel Wilde from Lanterns On The Lake to the former Midlake frontman, Tim Smith. Lost Horizons returns today with that infrequent beast, a double album, entitled In Quiet Moments.
Each track on the new album again features a guest vocalist and that honour is taken on the song shared here, “Heart Of A Hummingbird”, by Lily Wolter from the band Penelope Isles in her solo project guise of KookieLou. If that is quite enough names for you, I should add that the connection runs deep as the two bands toured together in 2018 and built the kind of friendship and mutual respect that mirror’s Raymonde’s own relationship with Thomas. KookieLou’s ethereal shimmer perfectly complements the song’s splendid melodic shifts, embellished by spacey guitars. Lyrically she takes us from a place of mixed emotions to a kind of release. Indicative of an approach to the whole album, then prepare to lose yourself in a reflective mystery tour of the most magical kind.
From double albums to double lives in music. Manchester via Edinburgh’s, Anna McLuckie, is a busy bee both as vocalist and Clàrsach player with dream pop band Diving Station (featured here last month) and as a solo artiste, supported by her own indie folk ensemble. She also finds time to work as a senior lecturer in Harp on the Popular Music course at Leeds Conservatoire, plus collaborates with charities and organisations across Manchester with music projects. She is currently the director of The Women's Voices Choir, which supports vulnerable BAME and LGBTQ women through singing and the arts. McLuckie has somehow found the time to create an excellent debut solo album this month, Today, Everyday.
The song “To Be Still” from the album is a musing on meditation. The singer began to try to meditate around seven years ago and has done it on and off ever since, with, she says, varying degrees of success! The song plots her frustrations with not being able to switch off her thoughts and explores various possible causes. Flipping between time signatures to echo the flittings of her mind, the song achieves a beautiful cohesion simply by how the instruments, main vocal and harmonies blend, outwardly effortlessly. Anna McLuckie’s voice is a particular delight; it has a filigree quality balanced by a resonance that gives her a commanding reach. Still in her early twenties, the former Will.i.am-mentored contestant from The Voice in 2014 continues to turn chairs.
Photo of Sarah Proctor by Lauren Waterworth
When she played her first ever gig in her native Billingham in North East England, singer-songwriter Sarah Proctor was the same age as Anna McLuckie making her Voice debut. She continued to perform her bedroom-penned original songs locally until moving to London to work on her craft, before eventually ending up in Los Angeles. You sense that these bold moves away from the comfort of home territory have helped shape Proctor as a songwriter who is now able to connect her feelings across a far broader base. Her 2020 EP, Show Your Love, ably demonstrated this development and she has now followed up with a new single, “The Breaks”.
The new song brings sink or swim imagery to echo the emotional uncertainties of daily life and should strike a chord with many trying to stay afloat mentally in these difficult times. Sarah Proctor contrasts moments of stillness in between the crashing waves that seek to drown you. She is searching for the time to make space for oneself away from the stressful aspects of life and work towards achieving some tranquillity. Blessed with a strong melody, “The Breaks” has a classic pop feel to it while Sarah Proctor’s intimate, hushed vocal style is one we can expect to hear again and again.
In case you only associate the Northern Belle with vintage train journeys – a kind of Orient Express for t’north – may I introduce The Northern Belle, a septet no less led by singer-songwriter, Stine Andreassen. The Tromso-via-Oslo outfit are early exponents of a brand of music combining Norwegian folk music with American country influences to produce something cutely labelled as Nordicana. Both have strong storytelling traditions which Andreassen and her band mates have fully embraced in their music, evidenced in its fine 2020 album, We Whither, We Bloom. The band has teamed up with compatriots, Siv Jakobsen and Louien, on a compelling new single, “No Rush”.
A feature of this exquisite collaboration is how the three female vocals mesh in fabulous harmony reminiscent of, say, The Staves or the Norwegian trio, I See Rivers. In tune with our times, this is a song about the brighter side of the human spirit, of taking care of one another and collective strength: “One is only as strong as all of us combined”. That line is sung by Siv Jakobsen who Andreassen confesses to look up to musically. The relative novice in the trio, Louien, is hardly overshadowed and is someone we will be hearing more of in a solo capacity during the year. Instrumentally the piece is carefully layered, eclectic enough without ever overriding the sparkling vocals.
For the last word today, it's back to Lost Horizons. It seemed a bit churlish only to feature one track when there are sixteen of them on the double album, so here is the closing song from the In Quiet Moments collection. It features the quite incomparable voice of Karen Peris of the marvellous band The Innocence Mission. Enough said.