Monday, April 30, 2012

RICHARD JAMES Pictures In The Morning

Raring-to-go albums throw back the covers energetically and leap out of bed with a full-throated holler to greet the day. Richard James’s third album ‘Pictures In The Morning’ softly starts a gentle, understated song of thanksgiving for lying in bed and hearing your loved ones’ heartbeat. However this intimate moment in ‘All Gone’ is a future, longed for event; the song is actually about the pangs of absence. In a similar way, most of the album conjures exquisite and fragile acoustic folk-blues to explore homecomings, pain, loss and hope. James’s tender vocals are placid, almost carefree but sing simply of deep, swirling emotions.

It’s an album with a fair old cast list – H Hawkline, Gareth Bonello and Euros Childs amongst the seven musicians contributing drums (one song only), electric guitar, bass, cello, viola and harmony vocals - yet so hushed and softly-spoken it feels like a solo album. The majority of these gracefully unfurling tracks are just voice and finger-picked guitar and when the other instruments appear they are subtly and unobtrusively woven in. If any one instrument stands out it is the viola - lonesome and mournful on 'Baby Blue', elegant and, well mournful again, on 'Do You Know The Way To My Heart'.

The two obvious deviations from this pattern divide the album into thirds. ‘Sun Ease Pain’ is a 10 minute, multi-part song appearing third out of nine tracks. Opening and closing sections retain the delicacy and sonic clarity of the quieter numbers but surge to a flurried psyche-folk intensity with livid, dense layers of cello and viola. These bookend a mid-section of reflective acoustic guitar and astral harmonies. It never becomes nightmarish but it is a marked contrast to the lullaby softness elsewhere. And then signalling the final third of the album, ‘Magical Day’, the full band song with drums, is a nifty swagger of a (folk-)rocker with squally guitar and coolly drawling vocals about bouncing back after heartbreak "
Now when it's healed the heart is strong / we drink fine wine and get along / seek new love to heal the pain / we dive straight in."

With fewer fuzzy, sonic adventures than 2006’s ‘The Seven Sleepers Den’ and lacking the up-beat full band expansiveness of 2010’s ‘We Went Riding’, this new record could be seen as a retreat. But that is to underestimate its quiet, intimate powers. ‘Pictures In The Morning’ is not a dark-night-of-the-soul record but one where the melancholy is gorgeously bathed in bright Spring sunshine. Sheer class.

Hear songs from this record live this week when Richard James plays Chester and Manchester.

Richard James Pictures In The Morning [BUY]

No comments: