Some artists you always associate with a certain signature song, a memorable gig or an important time in your own life. Richard James, founder Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci band member and now releasing his second solo album, I always associate with a press review. Because this quotation (from The Times on albums that should have been on the Mercury Music Prize List) is such a simple and brilliant summation of his music: "Former Gorkys man re-imagines the Velvet Underground if the ratio of Welshmen to New Yorkers were reversed".
That was in reference to 2006’s “The Seven Sleepers Den”. And if that album had a quiet church-like intimacy (the intro and outro featured recordings from inside a cathedral) this year’s “We Went Riding” is a more expansive, outdoors record, as varied and changing as the seasons. The first three songs alone illustrate this. Opener ‘Aveline’ is a quiet, romantic folk ballad; ‘When You See Me (In The Pouring Rain)’ is swooning country-rock; and ‘Faces’ is a step in another direction again – a wailing lament of densely psychedelic guitars (I cannot work out if its two, three or more guitars making those sounds).
Imagery throughout is from nature or the elements - rain, hills, horse-riding, the ocean, sunshine, roads, more rain – and is as distinctively Welsh as the strain(s) of psyche-folk on offer. Even when James taps into other genres - the banjo and fiddle of ‘Yes Her Smile’s Like A Rose’ sounds like antique Appalachian folk music; ‘Blues (Hey Hey Hey)’ is a dirty stomping blues-holler – you are in doubt which ancient land this music comes from. And if the some of the preceding eleven tracks weren’t moving enough, the album closes with the sparse heartbreak of ‘From Morning Sunshine’ sung with the chilly composure of Nico (yet more VU allusions!) by Cate Le Bon.
The assured quality of this record is such it sounds as though James has spent every moment of the four years since his last album doing nothing but crafting these romantic, haunting and timeless songs. Some parts could have been recorded in any decade since the 60s but there’s no denying this is a musical high-point of 2010. An album to be treasured by a musician who deserves greater recognition whilst making and recording music - and not after the fact like The Velvet Underground.
From Morning Sunshine by Richard James
You can listen to and download album out-takes on The Line of Best Fit and Drowned in Sound. But remember these are out-takes. Heading straight for the final cut album tracks should be your first destination.
We Went Riding [BUY]