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Water and Light
Artist:  Gareth Davies-Jones
Label: Heading West 
Length: 13 tracks / 59 minutes 
 
Some things change, some things stay the same. With Gareth Davies-Jones you get both. His voice is still warm and lilting; the pace of his songs remains consistently relaxed; and thoughtful content is still a hallmark. The change is a major one: previous discs were so full of weight that you sometimes dared not load them for fear of taking the woes of the world into your ears, but here substance is soaked in hope.
 
The disc is well-titled. Water is ever-present. The northern islands and north-east coastline of “Scottish Lights” and “Shoreline of Ghosts,” the poignant sea-faring tragedy of “Princess Victoria,” piers and rowing boats in “One Life” and the river-inspired reflections of “Water” all give a liquid theme to the collection.
 
But light also shines through many tracks, whether physical ones in “Scottish Lights” or the light of life. “Borderland” is an extended metaphor paralleling the meeting of countries with the thin places between earth and heaven, and the superb “Breathe” illuminates our reason for being here: 

              It wasn’t just the numbers that stacked up to bring us here 
              We’re more than random cells in some exploding unisphere.
 
“Breathe” is also one of the several tracks that feature some superb harmonies with Yvonne Lyon, whose contribution lifts the songs up a whole notch. Davies-Jones has collected a fine bunch of musical friends. He has worked with Wet Wet Wet’s Graeme Duffin for some time; Kevin McGuire of Katherine Polwart’s band plays double bass; and Jez Lowe also adds harmonies to “Shoreline of Ghosts.” This is a track that meets with much of Lowe’s own subject matter, as it chronicles changes in Tyneside’s industries with a slant that regrets the struggle to survive and mourns the passing of old trades, but implies others will rise to take their place:

 Now stocks are diminishing, quotas are low 
 The trawlers are idle, the mines have been closed 
 The minister says it’s a matter of time 
 Has it ever been different on this coast line? 
Davies-Jones is still rightly telling stories of people and issues, but here they are spaced out among personal reflections and other more immediate matters of daily life. Taking a broader approach has led to including two particularly fine tracks: the traditional “Black Velvet Band” and the gorgeous acoustic guitar instrumental “Path to Windy Gyle” – although I was disappointed to see such a fine piece of work labelled as a bonus track, because this is exactly the sort of music which adds space and highlights his intricate, delicate and precise playing. 
 
This disc feels like a coming-of-age for Davies-Jones. He has continued in his songwriting, which is full of unpredictable, yet natural melodies, but has matured in pacing an album by not trying to save the whole world in 40 minutes. This strong collection should give him a new level of respect on the UK folk scene and way beyond.
 
Derek Walker 


 

 
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