James McArthur and The Head Gardeners’ new album Intergalactic Sailor is a wonderful folk record that is quiet, dreamy, and very melodic.
This album has warmth and folk beauty to burn. ‘Cleaning Up’ begins with a sonic spacey sound, and then it spirals into a psych folk tune that is framed by a pulsing bass and a persuasive violin. And the vocal (just like everything on the record) is quietly important, while a guitar pumps lifeblood into the song. Then ‘Tourist Town’ is acoustic guitar perfection. This is introspective folk that walks in the footprints of a very British/Scottish 70’s tradition of Nick Drake, John Martyn, and (especially) Ralph McTell.
Now (oh my!), James M and his Gardeners have tapped into the sound of the great band Magna Carta. The vocals (which mirror those of Chris Simpson) tug successfully at the heart, and the melodies plead with time and beauty. For all the Magna Carta fans, just imagine an album filled with tunes that echo the patience of ‘White Snow Dove’, ‘Sunday On The River’, and ‘Parliament Hill’—all from the brilliant record, Songs From Wasties Orchard. Yeah, it strums that same gentle and profound chord.
To be fair, James McArthur is Welsh (and a former drummer for Paul Weller), so it’s a stretch to say the album is a bullseye into a Yorkshire pub dartboard, but with such understated yet superb songwriting, it’s darn close to a double top score at any pub that pumps a traditional ale under the sign of a Black Swan.
That said, ‘Heavy Sleeper’ is a pleasantly weird up-temp song with a guitar that sounds like a koto. By the way, Syd Arthur’s Joel Magill and brother Liam play on this album. And this slightly off-tilter tune evokes a playful Canterbury vibe.
The record continues with folk roots. ‘Plane Sailors’ echoes Medieval delicacy. ‘Drain The River’ is diaphanous with a really nice violin ride. ‘Defending the Fort’ is eerie with a great violin-bass-guitar middle section. ‘Wait For A Letter’ is the fully realized Head Gardeners sound: The dreamy vocals simply mesh with the violin, deep bass, the pedal steel, and the electric guitar. ‘Mountain Rescue’ is tranquil troubadour stuff. This is wonderful folk music that drips with sad tradition and the occasional harmonica drone.
‘Hard Landings’ expands the sound. Once again, the vocals float on a soft cloud, while the bass, violin, and electric guitar get jazzy for a warm while with even more echoes of the great Magna Carta sound that evoke the plaintive beauty of ‘The Sea And The Sand’. And for those who know (and love those Vertigo albums), that’s high praise.
The final song, ‘Intergalactic Sailor’, has a quick pulse and a clever rock heartbeat. It’s a nice brisk ending to a folk album that rides off into a pretty great sunset. I am reminded of The Sutherland Brothers and Quiver (bless them!) in their pop rock heyday of Reach For The Sky.
James M and his Gardeners breathe in harmony with the best of the 70’s folk bands. And it’s a winsome song. It blushes; it pauses; it pulses; and then it sings lovely songs that touch the heartbeat of the very human and very acoustic folk song soul. Magna Carta’s Chris Simpson once sang, “Falling stars don’t mend a sky”. Well, that may be true, but the folk songs on Intergalactic Sailor certainly can stitch a comforting quilt in the vast heavens of a cold autumnal and very windy nocturnal sky.
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The first single from the album – ‘Tourist Town’: