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GREN BARTLEY - Winter Fires

GREN BARTLEY - Winter Fires
Fellside Recordings FECD256

Following soon after his widely applauded Songs To Scythe Back The Overgrown, here’s another set of very personal songs, musings on love and loss that, again, tend to prune more than scythe, leaving ample growth, depth and detail for interest.

Playing, consummately as ever, finger-picked guitar with some banjo (unusually e-Bowed on the atmospheric opening piece Home), slide and harmonica, the songs here are delicately embellished with some vocal support, piano, violin, drums, percussion and, unexpectedly, a little kora. American folk and Blues stylings, in particular, are the dominant influences in the presentation. Some may find the prevailing gentleness, the measured space and the inherently fragile-sounding, though confident, voice a little too prevalent, but somehow there are compelling qualities that could well override that feeling – essentially the lyricism and the playing.

Oft-times appealingly cryptic in nature and enriched with some pleasing imagery and clever use of words, the writing is absorbing and emotionally engaging. The title track, perhaps more English folk in feel, is particularly moving as is the long story piece about a fraternal relationship expressed through waters running ‘deep’ and then, endlessly shifting, somehow coming to ‘run dry’. On the playing front, there’s plenty of interest – standouts include some fine picking and tonal detail on Wayward Stars segueing into some intricate intimacy with the kora on the traditional piece Kelefaba, and the richly poetic sensibility of Between The Lines has a very catchy guitar figure interwoven.

This is another subtly expressive sequence of appealing, at times captivating, songs of character and charm.

Kevin T. Ward

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This album was reviewed in Issue 96 of The Living Tradition magazine.