RAY COOPER – Even For A Shadow (Westpark Music)

Even For A ShadowEven For A Shadow is a sublime singer-songwriter album from Ray Cooper, also known as (the beloved) Chopper from his twenty-three-year stint with the great Oysterband. And, yes, this music has the always relevant attitude, with many a melody to burn.

The very first lyric, “The lights are changing in the rain” is evocative, symbolic, introspective, and a wonderfully poetic hors d’ oeuvre for the entire record that, indeed, sings with the wit and wisdom found in an occasional “shadow”.

Great music does just that.

The title tune sparks with acoustic guitar beauty, Ray’s dramatic voice, and a profound love for the vagabond life of a touring musician. But the tune oozes with humanity, pondering the thoughtful pursuit because “Alone we come into this world and alone we go, but I have friends I know”. And there’s “a place to go”. It’s a metaphoric lyric with “a new day” while watching “the big trucks climb and struggle up that hill just vanish in the haze”.

That’s the gist of a life’s folk song, I suppose.

But, as my friend, Kilda Defnut, is wont to say, “Perhaps even Sisyphus, with or without an acoustic guitar, needs a well-deserved vacation every once in a while”.

Sure. But then, ‘Falling Like Thunder’ is a wonderous spoken word blended with a sublime (to use that word for a second time!) chorus. And what words these are! This is a political vociferation that is worthy of the speaker “standing on a soapbox in the market square shouting like a madman”. But it’s also the critical folk-singer musings, when thinking about Great Britain post WWII, that just make a lot of sense. The tune certainly has the flavour of a nice Bruce Cockburn observation, but it could also be the soundtrack to any passage from America’s favorite scribe, Howard Zinn in his book The People’s History Of The United States.

The songs continue. ‘Wind And Steel’ is a duet with Sunniva Bondesson, and with the help of pretty cool brass, they imagine a “desert road trip”. By the way, Ray’s falsetto touches drama sometimes explored by (the great!) Phil Minton, who graced many albums from the piano-jazz guy genius Mike Westbrook. Big compliment, there! In contrast, ‘The Sky Was Black With Diamonds’ has more introspective words and is conjured into a country Americana vibe with the help of Ben Paley’s fiddle playing. The brakes are pressed for the solemn ‘Going Underground’, about lovers’ tension during the lockdown between separation and, (in true folk song idiom) “jumping the broomstick”. Indeed, as The Clash sang, “Should I stay or should I go”. That may well be the great residue memory of life. The song, thankfully, rests with the dueted vocal from Kathryn Roberts in the less obvious footsteps that walk comfortably away from Peter Gabriel and Kate Bush’s big pathos-injected song, ‘Don’t Give Up’. Sometimes, those “lights” that “are changing in the rain” need a quiet lullaby. Nice.

There’s another juxtaposition with the four-fold interlude that begins with a quickly pulsed take on the traditional ‘Sir Patrick Spens”, that morphs into the Anders Peev nyckelharpa fiddled instrumental ‘Bonaparte’s Retreat’. This is followed by the lovely ‘Black Is The Colour/En Vacker Van’, which is graced with the dueted vocals of Emma Hardelin (of Garmarna and Triakel Swedish fame!). And, finally, there’s the “Calm Wave” of another “old Swiss piano” touched instrumental tune, ‘Tyyne Laine’.

But back to the original songs. ‘The Wind’ oozes with more vocal drama, as the piano and cello circle with the pathos of an intense halo. Then, ‘When We Reach The Stars’ slowly stirs the “Big Huge” introspective cauldron that contemplates the death of a friend, as those “lights” continue to change “in the rain”. Indeed, “From the ocean mother we come and to the ocean we return”. Let’s just say that sometimes a folk song somehow becomes art. And then leave it at that.

The final song, ‘Adios’, is a cover of a Jimmy Webb tune. It’s a nice finale that certainly conjures (the great!) Ralph McTell’s own “calm wave” version of Tom Waits’s song, ‘San Diego Serenade’, from his Right Side Up album.

This music curls with colours – “green to amber and then to red again” — and then it all flows into a memory’s rainbow. It’s old; it’s new, with that always-relevant attitude to burn through “lights” that change “in the rain”. But somehow, it conjures magic from the singer-songwriter song cauldron, and, quite simply, sings a song with the mysterious depth of any occasional and very melodic “shadow”.

Bill Golembeski

Artist’s website: https://www.raycooper.org/

‘Falling Like Thunder’ – official video:

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