On the lushly gorgeous opening cut to this CD, I immediately got a full impression of Gordon Giltrap just before the cut tumbled into Rowena is Queen and spilled forth Leigh Gregory's full-on Donovan voice. I've had an abiding weakness for the old hippie bard for 40 years now and can't get enough of him, so Gregory is a slice of heaven transported to this era and set in baroquely fingerpicked chords, thrumming cello, and a very chambery anteroom of solemn antiquity. From Afar continues Rowena's enchantment, luring the innocent listener into a hopeless enamorment with the truly surprising disc. There's some remarkable folk music floating around out there, boys and girls, and Rainy Season Never Ends sits in the highest echelons. I'm dead serious. If you like John Martyn, Iain Matthews, Nick Drake, Mr. Leitch, Shawn Philips, and that ilk, this is going to set euphoria on your table because Gregory is extraordinarily talented...but with a difference. Infuse Talk Talk's moodiest later refrains and 4AD's terminal existentialism with Donovan and Giltrap, and you obtain an oil painting of what's happening here. The title cut's progressive but restrainedly so, as is much of the disc, slowly evolving into a chiaroscuro of fog and bulking shadows, Poe-esque refrains gently wearing at the spirit, eroding it with resignation and world-weariness. If it was good enough for Shakespeare and Edgar Allan, it's good enough for Leigh Gregory and his spectacularly dour troupe.
That backing band is amazingly sympathetic, a consort or personal music guild rather than sessioneers. Gregory handles the guitars, vocals, and keyboards but his cohorts never let tone or temper flag for a moment. Erik Pearson's flute is letter perfect in classic Elizabethan ambiance while Aaron Kerr's cello and Fionnuala Ni Chiosoig's violin impregnate the unmistakably British airs with dark Celtica. Steven Cavoretto's mournful trumpet contrasts the register when it appears, but the horn appears nowhere near fulsomely enough for these thirsty ears. Clay Hawkins' lap steel takes up when violin and cello are absent, spacier but dripping with reverb and melancholy while Burtt B's mandolin manages to complement the guitar in its brighter presence, often recessed to underscore the lead.
Many years ago, I'd hoped Keith Christmas, Peter Sinfield, Steve Ashley, or Colin Scott might've indited work like this, so it's been a long long wait. Perhaps my own expectations were to blame, but thank God someone finally created such a threnodic gem slowly brewed through the ages like a saturninely irascible bottle of bourbon and brooding elfen dust.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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