Like a home-grown musical reflection of Henry Thoreau's novel, Walden, and Big Sur by Jack Kerouac, this second release on the Campbell co-owned Triassic Tusk label is very much the sound of one man getting his head together in the country. Rather than bask in some wide-eyed nouveau-hippy idyll, this is Campbell, not in retreat, but more in bewildered and world-weary confrontation with himself.
As a scene-setter, Fallen Stag may begin with a low strum and a mournful fiddle, but as it comes blinking into the light, it morphs into a panoramic chamber instrumental driven by a lush orchestral sweep that conjures up wide-open spaces witnessed for the first time. This is the first taste too of the Pumpkinseeds, the glorious ten-piece string ensemble watched over by cellist, member of Edinburgh band The Leg and DIY supergroup Modern Studies and composer in his own right, Pete Harvey. His arrangements embellish Campbell's stark confessionals with a breadth and depth that brings them sensitively to life with a roaring empathy.
Campbell's first words come on the album's title track, a cracked downbeat epic which sees the song's narrator communing with nature. The strings wrapped around Campbell's delivery personify the river as the words meld into the landscape, becoming a part of it much as Campbell's hand-claps and one-man-band bass drum kicks become an extension of his musical soul.
The wild west showdown slide guitar that opens Every Florist in Every Town reveals Campbell as the proverbial stranger, a lonesome cowboy moseying about his business while contemplating the meaning of life, finding salvation and companionship en route. The plaintive harmonica and whining dog that end the song suggests a knowing reinvention of old-time back-woods porch songs.
The plucked metallic guitar and doleful faraway yearning on The Misery Bell sounds like a Highland cousin to to former Pale Fountains and Shack vocalist Michael Head's sublime, strung-out and criminally neglected 1997 album, The Magical World of The Strands. Brutes in Life is jauntier, and sounds like a man reflecting on shared intimacies over a skittery backbeat and plaintive harmonica. The Lengths may be spritely, but it is full of purpose and a call at least for renewed commitment. Acharacle, the second instrumental on the album, recorded, like Fallen Stag, in a five-hundred year old castle, features a moody slide guitar that ducks in and out of view before giving way to wide-screen baroque mediaevalism.
A cover of singer/songwriter Nuala Kennedy's Coal Daughter is possibly the most traditional song here in terms of structure, and Campbell's delivery is raw with vocal grit. It is in the final seven bittersweet minutes of Hurl Them Further, however, where Campbell seems to find closure. Harvey's arrangements fall somewhere between western film composer Jerome Moross and the mournful classicism of Arvo Part, this is Campbell tying himself up in emotional knots one last time. As he pleas for understanding from his sparring, the song's end is the musical equivalent of wandering off into the sunset as if a weight has been lifted on an album that is part purging, part revelation of the most quietly euphoric kind.
Product, January 2017