Melodies And Time creates a quandary for those who seek to put music into neat little boxes. It begins with a hint of Lal Waterson, one of Britain's finest and most underrated songwriters; adds arrangements worthy of Robert Kirby's work with Nick Drake; and melds pastoral tones with African instruments. There are touches of jazz and blues, a few shuffle rhythms, and the romantic harp of leader and composer Rachael Gladwin. It all makes Rachael and the Red Socks' debut release hard to categorize, but it's remarkably easy to love.
Gladwin describes herself as a "contemporary harpist." She's worked with jazz artists including clarinetist Arun Ghosh and trumpeter Matthew Halsall, contributing to Halsall's stunning On The Go (Gondwana Records, 2011). Her voice is pure but there's an edge, especially in its lower register, that enables her to communicate both sensuality and, on "The Cynical Man," a touch of sarcasm.
There's lots of percussion, employed with great subtlety to highlight the more nuanced sounds of the harp, cello and guitar. Trumpeter Steve Chadwick and trombonist Paul Burton add some tasty horn sounds to three songs, Burton's soft-toned solo on "Fade To Brown" enhancing the emotional strength of the lyric.
Gladwin's harp playing has been compared favorably to Alice Coltrane, but the overarching feel on Melodies And Time is closer to the bucolic sounds of English folk. An oft-maligned genre, seemingly a poor relation to its Irish and Scottish cousins, it has a unique strength and vitality of its own. It's had an impact on Paul Simon and Bob Dylan; Pentangle mixed its pastoral visions with the work of Charles Mingus to great effect; and musicians such as Waterson, Eliza Carthy and Seth Lakeman have taken it to new creative heights. It's a genre that delivers strange tales of mystery and darkness, and love songs of heartbreaking beauty. Rachael and the Red Socks steers clear of the darkness, but the band is not averse to a spot of strangeness, and Gladwin's love songs have their own beauty.
The Robert Kirby sound is to the fore on the delicate but emotionally warm "Song For Reuben." It's also there, in a more jocular fashion, on "Written With A Plan"a lyric about the existential angst of supermarket shopping over the soaring sound of Gladwin's harp and Line Haukland's cello. "Brunswick Road"maybe the loveliest song ever written about Manchesterkeeps the instrumentation simple. Guitar, violin and cello create a melancholy mood on "As Stars Shine On A Lake," with Gladwin's voice at its most affecting and Chadwick and Burton delivering a contrastingly fiery crescendo.
Rachael and the Red Socks wears its influences proudly, mixing and molding them into a genuinely original sound. Gladwin sings on "Brunswick Road" that "the melodies and time made it worthwhile." Melodies And Time is a rewarding debut, strong on imagery and high on emotional connection. More than worthwhile, it's essential.
Song for Reuben; The Cynical Man; Fade to Brown; They Pray; Right Now I Know; Too Close Intro; Too Close; I Find; Written With A Plan; Brunswick Road; As Stars Shine On A Lake.
Rachael Gladwin: harp, vocals, dulcimer (5), kora (10), guitar (11); Benjamin Stead: guitar, vocals; Line Haukland: cello, vocals; Jake Foord: electric upright bass, vocals, guitar (5, 11); Adam Beaney: cajon, percussion, vocals; Kjetil Hallre; conga, percussion, vocals; Joshua Jones: djembe, percussion, vocals, violin (5, 11), timbale (7); Steve Chadwick: trumpet (3, 8, 11); Paul Burton: trombone (3, 8, 11).