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To the Pine Roots
Artist: Iain Archer
Label: Izumi Records
Iain Archer is like a musical diamond. He has a deep, solid quality to his playing and writing, and the sparkle that glistens up his songs is neither artificial nor decorative but a natural attribute of his gift. To the Pine Roots is Archer's fifth full-length album and is his most intimate, stripped down and acoustic since _Crazy Bird_ a decade ago. All his previous work is in evidence here: the pop sensibilities of his youthful debut Playing Dead the folk of Crazy Bird, the curves of his alternative electric experimentations on Flood the Tanks and then the subtler hypnotic ambience of his last album, _Magnetic North._ If you want to place the album in the history of rock rather than the history of Archer then refer to Morrison's Astral Weeks through Nick Drake and John Martyn and on down past Jeff Buckley nodding at The Shins on route to becoming a peer with Conor Oberst and Bon Iver.
To the Pine Roots is an intimate, sparse sound that is perfect for early morning coffee or late night tipple and reflection. Archer's guitar playing is immaculate, and over time he has learned to stop being flash and also to not be too minimalist. His maturity as a musician--as he won his Ivor Novello with his Northern Irish mates Snow Patrol, lectures at Music Colleges, co-writes with the Nashville scene and set up his own studio to produce major label albums--is in the genes of the record. "Acrobat" is a light bubbly start, built on those hypnotic, acoustic riffs that graced "Canal Song," his contribution to _Grey's Anatomy_; "Songbird" has an elegant grace; "Hey Mia, Don't Be Lonely" tender compassion; "Frozen Lake," with Archer's falsetto, has a fragile serenity; the eight-minute "Everest" ends with lush Gospel vocals added by none other than his in-laws! "Streamers On a Kite" finger-dances on Archer's fretboard before drifting like a celebratory summer's day into your soul.
Recorded in the Black Forest of Germany, Archer has evoked the sound of its valley, rivers and the whispering of the trees. It comes across pastorally, calming and touches the places in your soul that the crammed-in noises of the city can never reach. In his famous review of the aforementioned Astral Weeks, Lester Bangs spoke of Morrison's "Madame George" as having "beauty, sensitivity and holiness." These three words are the perfect description of the songs here. You can sense the beauty of scenery that crafted it; there is a real sensitivity to the cast of characters, and there is lots love and grace which is where the holiness comes in--the soul is touched, refreshed and the hope is ever expected.
Steve Stockman is the Presbyterian Chaplain
at Queens University, Belfast, Ireland, where he lives in community with
88 students. He has written two books Walk On; The Spiritual Journey of
U2 which he is currently updating and The Rock Cries Out; Discovering Eternal
Truth in Unlikely Music. He dabbles in poetry and songwriting and he has
a weekly radio show on BBC Radio Ulster (listen anytime of day or night
@ www.bbc.co.uk/ni/religion/rhythmandsoul). He has his own web page--Rhythms
of Redemption at http://stocki.ni.org . He also tries to spend some time
with his wife Janice and daughters Caitlin and Jasmine.