A malfunction with letting him know my new address means I won’t get my hands on Gaz Brookfield’s new album ’til the weekend. However, a similarly exciting delivery did arrive on my newish doormat this week. A new album by Nick Burbridge is always pretty damn exciting for me – coupled with it being another collaboration with Tim Cotterell and well, excited doesn’t really cover it!
My first impression of this upon opening the jiffy bag on my doormat was that the cover of Resolved is a bit more friendly than its predecessor Gathered was. It seems like ages ago I had the latter in my hand for the first time (I suppose it was – 2012!). I loved it so much I felt compelled to write about it despite not having yet developed writing about music as a hobby. Sixteen tracks promises to be a bumper, although noticing six titled tanka with numbers prompted a quick Google.
A tanka is a short poetic structure from Japan consisting of five lines and 31 syllables. Five in the first and third lines, seven in the remainder, sort of like a haiku plus I suppose. Intriguing! Nick is, after all, a well-regarded poet (and playwright) as well as songwriter. All but the second track are prefixed Song of – a hint of some kind of narrative or journey perchance.
Normally I like to just bang an album on and dive in, but this kind of demands a bit of consideration first. The simple but eye-catching line-drawn design features a figure of a humanoid child but with the head of a fox, a pencil discarded on the floor. Created by Ben Burbridge – a less shocking nod to the cover of its predecessor, which featured the body of a fox hanging from a branch, maybe?
The enclosed press-release references the album being akin to a journey (which was already apparent from the song titling) – it’s not surprising – Nick’s lyrical style is evocative, he’s a storyteller as much as he’s a songwriter. I have no idea how he fits so many words into each song whilst retaining the tunefulness (ask Ken about that next time you see him about to tackle Living On Thin Air which of course was co-written with Nick… whilst I mention that, did you ever see the video of Nick performing alongside Ferocious Dog for that song?) – his wordcount would be more comparable with a rapper!
If you’re looking for a song-by-song run through you won’t find one – whilst you can’t really ‘spoiler’ an album – this is one that deserves to have the listener to embark with it without details and fully immerse themselves in it. Gathered remains one of my very favourite collections of songs, so it was both with excitement and reserve I got this playing on my sound bar, trepidation setting in at the bold claims that this overtakes its forerunner. I almost don’t want it to, such is the esteem I have for Gathered.
Of course Nick is only half the story here – his distinctive vocals are unmistakable throughout, but they are lushly backed by the incredibly multi-instrumental talents of Tim Cotterell. Fiddle, mandolin, bouzouki, guitar, banjo, piano, accordion and digital trickery all blend together into a perfect soundscape to back Nick’s voice and guitar, along with flute from Philippe Barnes and vocals from Molly Burbridge weaving their way into complex layers of sound that never become too busy.
Where Gathered was pensive and reserved (back in 2012 I described it as ‘relaxed’ which seems fair). This collection has more urgency – it still has that acoustic feel with minimal hints at percussion, rhythms provided by voice and instruments – but then interspersed with the six acapella tankas (which do have tunes to them, little delicious yet often lyrically harrowing musical appetisers between the ten main courses).
Listening you’re swept through the different paces, an effortless blend of traditional and contemporary folk – the rich lyrical devices evoke nature and humans in conflict and harmony, with themselves or with each other. I get lost in the sound and melody, and then the themes of the words weave their way into your mind. Nick is a master of rhymes without them seeming forced, a clever lyrical tour de force that shouldn’t be underestimated.
The opening tanka is bleak in theme, then you’re thrust into the wonderful melody of Another Song – melancholic and beautiful. The journey, like any, accelerates and decelerates in turn – explores all points of the emotional spectrum yet hangs together wonderfully as a cohesive collection of music and poetry. This isn’t an album I’d let fall into my typically unimaginative listening style of the dreaded shuffle – it demands to be heard as a whole much more so than Gathered where I have teased out isolated tracks into playlists.
It’s a truly beautiful set of compositions – at once uplifting and harrowing, and lyrics to pore over to try to derive meaning which is probably not always that which the writer intended – such is the joy of such poetic songwriting. Perhaps the biggest accolade I can offer it though is that it quietened my two normally-very-noisy-at-this-time-of-evening cockatiels. Only something really spellbinding can do that! Or a small mountain of millet seed.
Resolved is released on 31st January 2017 – however there are some pre-released signed copies available now, you can find details of how to get your hands on one on this post from Nick’s Facebook page. As for me, I’m really looking forward to really immersing myself further – a sublime follow-up to Gathered, claims it eclipses it might well prove to be true with further listens it was certainly worth the wait. Huge thanks to Nick and Simon for arranging a copy for me (and the photos of Nick and Tim performing I’ve used) – I’m humbled!