The Darkening/The Brightening
Pensive and Quintessentially Modern British Folk Music for the Masses.
Mike Scott from the Waterboy’s shadow looms large over this album as he not only co-produced the record but Stevenson is something of a protogee.
As with all of the best songwriters and poets; a broken heart was the catalyst for Stevenson putting pen to paper for these songs; and whoever the young lady is I can only say “thank you my dear.”
Stevenson’s gentle and rolling guitar playing opens the album; and while the first couple of lines may be a bit twee; for my taste I quickly got over that and was soon engrossed with the hirsute young man’s tales of lost love. In that opening song, Welcome Freddie is joined by what sounds like a choir of children in the background and it just avoided being too maudlin and having me in floods of tears.
Second song, The Rope Maker’s Daughter not just merges traditional Folk story-telling with a modern Americana ‘feel’ actually marrying the two so well you can’t tell the joins.
Apart from his astute way with words and the delightfully soft melodies that weave the whole thing together; only three songs are three or more minutes long. Stevenson is very concise with his story telling and doesn’t include anything that doesn’t need to be there; even though the overall sound is absolutely luscious and worthy of a much bigger studio than this was recorded in.
For the life of me I can’t think which song Goodbye For Good reminds me of; perhaps nothing at all is it is one of those songs you think you’ve known forever. This beautiful song could have been too bitter if just sung to the acoustic guitar but what sounds like a pump-organ in the background raises it to the giddy heights of Award nominee I hope.
My favourite song is actually the touching and metaphorical A Falling Leaf which will have you leaning into the speakers to hear the words that barely even sound like breathing; but the effort is well worth it.
While the majority of the songs keep to the same strolling pace Hell Hound Holly picks up the pace to something of a canter with the ‘choir’ making another appearance on harmonies and the guitar picking is worthy of the late departed Bert Jansch at his very best.
With 18 songs in under an hour there is always going to be a bit of repetition in the themes and melodies; but as an overall concept that is by far a minor fault.
The Darkening/The Brightening is a miserable joy from start to finish and will certainly appeal to fans of songwriters as diverse as Mike Scott himself, Richard Thompson, Nick Drake and even Leonard Cohen.