Bare Along the Branches
BLACK DUST RECORDS
Classy Contemporary Folk Songs That Transcend Boundaries and Borders.
I loved; and still love Norrie McCulloch’s last album These Mountain Blues released less than a year ago so was very surprised when this ‘follow up’ album arrived in late January.
So, it was with a modicum of trepidation that I slid the shiny disc into the office hi-fi and sat back cradling a piping hot cup of tea.
It took less than two minutes of opening track Shutter for a smile to break out and I breathed a sigh of relief. Norrie’s voice sounds even warmer and more ’rounded’ than on the previous album; and the ‘sound’ that surrounds a delightfully brittle bittersweet love song obviously comes from a band of musicians who know each others strengths intimately and gel like a well oiled machine.
Historically I steer away from the F Word; but this is Folk Music Jim; just not as we know it.
McCulloch’s voice is definitely Scottish; but to the uninitiated…. quintessentially ‘Celtic;’ and songs like Safe Keeping and Around The Bend are from the Folk idiom; but just like his heroes Guy Clark and Bobby Dylan the way McCulloch interprates his own lyrics is way beyond the ‘finger in the ear’ ballads and shanties that still get played in Folk Clubs around the world.
McCulloch is obviously well travelled; and he has picked up ideas for stories and songs along the way; making Frozen River and Little Boat just as relevant in Australia, Appalachia and Airdrie…..which is quite some feat, in my humble opinion.
Dig deep here and you will find the Lo-Fi dark delights of Beggars Woods and Turn To Dust; written shortly after the death of his Mother and are both as Southern Gothic as they are Scottish Presbyterian in essence.
Then, just when I thought I had a handle on Norrie’s ‘new direction’ he throws a couple of left-field curve balls with the ‘Folk Rockers’ Never Leave You Behind (featuring some sublime pedal-steel from Mr Ian Sloan) and Lonely Boy.
Like all of the best singer-songwriter albums through the ages, Bare Along The Ashes is best listened to alone, preferably with the lights down low and a refreshing brew to hand; which brings me to my two stand out tracks…….the stark and brooding piano led This Time is absolutely spellbinding but the one I keep going back to; and the one ‘shuffle’ on my I-pod keeps playing is Safe Keeping. A very simple melody masking a very complex and timeless song that could be about my own life in a ‘small town’ and looking for a road out.
This is Norrie McCulloch’s third album in as many years; and for such a prolific songwriter there’s not a weak song here and the self-confidence in his storytelling and way with words is quite astonishing really.
If you like quality songwriters like Guy Clark, Richard Thompson and the like I’m pretty sure you will love this album by this proud son of Scotland too.
Released February 24th 2017