The fact that Chris Riffle chose to cover Donovan Leitch (Catch the Wind), one of my all-time favorite folkies, is revealing. However, it's how the guy's interpolated Nick Drake into his mode that really intrigues, even to the point of incorporating the beautiful embellishments John Cale brought to Nick's superlative oeuvre. Now toss in the fact that he imported Jimi Zhivago (last seen in the stunning Perfect View release by Libby Johnson) along with a cellist and others, and you have an unbeatable combination.
Playing a toned-down acoustic guitar beside lazily encanted vocals, embodying a sentiment that's concurrently entranced and world-weary, the ambiance of the entire CD is one of gently ringing tones, softly flowing understated melodics rich in foggy texture, rustic afternoons, and ancient airs kept alive via memory and sideways sight. Zhivago is a crucial element in the work, as he seems cut right from the composer's heart, complementing Riffle's complicated subtleties in finely honed sensitivities and abstract extensions. Because of that, there's more than a little of the marvelous Leigh Gregory (here) present in spirit.
Yes, Donovan couldn't have been a better choice, as more than a small portion of Riffle's vocals squarely reflect the celebrated Welshman, though Chris remains constantly in the threnodic mode, laying out entablatures of anguish and ecstasy. Ghosts meet flesh in his songs, and the acquaintance is well consummated, resulting in a deceptively hypnotic milieu that is the stuff of literature and worthy of comparing to Richie Havens, Iain Matthews, and even the achingly gorgeous refrains Mickey Newbury showed with In a New Age. Gorgeous, deep, and affecting.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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