Withered Hand & A Singer of Songs: Among Horses I (2017) – Album Review

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It’s every blogger’s dream to be able to recommend an artist far-flung from the mainstream, whom their faithful readers will probably never have heard of, yet whose quality merits immediate attention.

With Among Horses I, here are two of them.

One I was already aware of, many thanks to Robert Christgau’s raves: Withered Hand, a.k.a. Dan Willson, Scottish folkie responsible for two of the quickest-witted albums of the past decade – Good News and New Gods, go seek out and buy them NOW. The other fella was new to me: A Singer of Songs, a.k.a. Lieven Scheerlinck, Belgian folkie and smooth-voiced chum of Dan’s.

Travelling together to Catelonia, they recorded this pastoral-themed EP in a mate’s farmhouse out there (the mate’s also the drummer). A long way from the city and their native lands, you can really hear it in these pretty-as-you-like songs, which are all about distance. The metaphorical distance, for example, of alcoholism wedging itself between a couple in ‘After the Rain’, of wishes vanishing into the ether in ‘Wishes Gone’, of an old self being bid farewell at the end of ‘Among Horses’. The metaphysical distance of a narrator proclaiming his spirit to be alive in the religious retreat of ‘Santa Cova’, following a vicious battle at Pamplona in which he became a ‘broken down body with a lion’s heart’. And of course the literal distance in the quietly strummed music, which retreats softly into the background until you choose to concentrate on it. Which you should.

All six songs are memorable in tune, with half of them attributed to each artist. A Singer of Songs’ tracks are more Beatlesque to my ears, with the ‘la la la’ backing vocals and warm n’ folky guitar lines of ‘Wishes Gone’ recalling Rubber Soul, and the repeated mantra of ‘It’s ok to stray/Don’t be afraid to lose your way’ drawing out ‘Stray’ to nearly six minutes in length in a manner very much akin to the nursery rhyme comforts of ‘Hey Jude’. Withered Hand’s contributions meanwhile are briefer and simpler in acoustic construction, with the emphasis instead placed on the complexity of lyrics. Which is fine by me, because they are oblique and so very beautiful. Try: ‘Our river used to wind its way/Down from the valley into the plain/You’ll be looking at a new man/After the rain.’

Brief though this EP may be, its rustic charm and positivity so overcome the prevailing tenor of political negativity ravaging the western world these days that I can see myself returning to its alluring glow quite often. ‘Farewell old sad me’, as one line goes here. For less than £5 you can sing the same.

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