Gavin Sutherland released A Traveller’s Tales in early May. Sutherland had international fame in the seventies both in the Sutherland Brothers and Quiver and as a songwriter – Rod Stewart’s ‘Sailing’ being the most obvious. In 1999 he began to release solo albums. A Traveller’s Tales is his sixth – and I rather like it. Sutherland is approaching his seventieth year and his voice has a timbre that you can only get through life – it’s as melodic as ever, but there’s a rough older man’s edge to the sweetness and it gives a depth to these songs.
The songs have a simplicity that comes from the clarity of knowing what makes a good song, how to play it and arrange it. ‘Righteous Road’ probably has the greatest orchestration on it (fiddle, piano, drums, double bass, synthesisers, pedal steel guitar, and the vocal harmonies that will come as no surprise to anyone who remembers the early work) – but it doesn’t feel like an orchestrated band song.
The Japanese have a word, shibumi, for ‘the true sophistication of simple things’ (if you think how easy it looked when Best kicked a football or Gower hit a cricket ball or the best musician you know plays something that gets you yourself in tangles, then you get the idea) – and A Traveller’s Tales is rather like that. The lyrics to ‘Righteous Road’ have a not dissimilar sense. I’d need to quote the whole song, so here’s a link: https://www.gavinsutherland.net/tales.htm. Sutherland produced the album himself and, although on first play I heard only simple songs, he’s produced an album that I keep playing it because it doesn’t tire.
Other songs have a similar sense of looking back; it’s almost as though an elder is talking to those around him. They won’t fully understand (because they haven’t lived the same life) but might just be helped to shorten the journey to get to a better place. My favourite of these tracks is probably ‘Picture On The Wall’ which has a simple arrangement, short lyrics and a belter of a tune.
The arrangements have been described as “bringing a country flavour to the writer’s rootsy approach to music making” and there are also elements of a gospel flavour (‘Wheels Are Rolling’) or a jazzy flavour (‘Gull With A Broken Wing’) or classic late sixties (‘The Bend In The River’). But I’ve just dug out 1972’s Lifeboat and played it for the first time, probably, since the seventies. Above all, what you have is Sutherland’s ability to write a cracking song undiminished by time, enhanced rather by life’s lessons along the way. If anyone decides to create The New Highwaymen, then Sutherland could be a founder member.
Sutherland’s own comment on the album is “The road gets rough for all of us from time to time, it’s a chaotic world out there, but I try to stay forever positive and optimistic. It’s the only way we can deal with it all and I think that comes through in the music.”
There are no videos yet of the songs on the album, so below is Sutherland playing ‘Believe In Yourself’ from 2013’s album Tango At The Lost Café.
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‘Believe In Yourself’ – live: