by John Richardson

Release date: March 31, 2017
Label: Svart Records

John Richardson may be an unknown voice outside of rather particular musical circles in Finland but based on The Fold, his debut album, he really should be known to a much wider audience. Making a return after a stop/start beginning many years ago and returning to writing and University teaching, the music world can certainly count itself richer on the basis of what is on here.

With a warm, inviting voice, Richardson belies what is a rather progressive album with a suite of songs which embrace you and comfort you. Dark, sultry and mysterious, they weave a rich tapestry of emotions through an at times playful abundance of instruments. Coloured by vocals from Anna-Elena Pääkkölä, a Fellow of the University of Turku, there’s an intelligence and beauty that emboldens the music.

Unafraid to hit a groove, opening song ‘The Fold’ is a delightful romp which introduces the many aspects of Richardson’s music. Full of urgent rhythms and funky vocals, it’s a perfect opener before much deeper fare approaches. It’s a sign that this is an album which will find its own way regardless of expectations and although there are common musical themes throughout, they also like to confound.

That impressive urge to keep the music progressing plays out in a lively manner and it’s on second track ‘Dawnsong’ that we get a hint of the magic within. Played out over a simple piano, the music swells to epic proportions before sinking back to a sweet intimacy. With vocals that complement each other to create a majestically beautiful feeling before a trumpet emerges to take the song to its climax, it really does feel like something special is happening.

It’s the intimacy that is particularly striking about this album and through this, a sense of being privy to a series of magic moments. The album develops with samples taking us on a journey, the rhythmic pulses of ‘Birdman Of Bognor’ evoking a mariachi feel, a swoop into the lively music of olde folk. This is tempered by the slight acoustic guitar of ‘Tumbleweed Days’, which subtly changes into a gothic-ness reminiscent of Danny Elfman’s soundtrack work. There’s a magic realism about it, which evokes a world that is recognisable, yet just out of reach. Like those broken snatches of dreams, played out in the early hour slumbers, the album becomes a twisted folk drama.

‘Sanatorium’ reaches down into that barrel of folk blues that Tom Waits likes to explore. There’s nothing quite as bone driven here though and for its whispered creepiness, it resists the urge to dismay with its sprightly lightness. The following ‘Open Page’ does have the feel of a corner turned though as the tempo lifts up a few notches.

Later on we get the resolute ‘Skin Gone Dry’, which evokes nature with natural responses, becoming a dance between both vocalists. Permanently light, it casts aside the heavy themes for something much more buoyant. It’s only a brief moment of sunshine though as the foreboding ‘Brushfire’ ushers in a tetchy end to the album, its cello forming the parts of our nightmares as Richardson’s lyrics prod and prove your consciousness. It’s unnerving yet completely apt for the ride this album takes.

A debut album of this calibre is rare and when they come along they become something to treasure. To get an album as fully formed as The Fold both musically and emotionally is like striking water in a desert. John Murry did it with Graceless Age, another John does it here. The ease and exploratory confidence in which it plays out is something to behold and provided it reaches the right ears, should easily find itself in those end of year lists. Haunting, mesmerising and playful, The Fold presents us with a musician to be cherished. Let’s hope he doesn’t return to his day job any time soon.

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