SAM BROOKES – Black Feathers (Go Slowly Records)

Black FeathersNow, it’s a given that Joseph had “The Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”; but truly, Bristol-based Sam Brookes, with his album Black Feathers, has produced an “amazing technicolour” record of sublime vocal beauty, fronting a well-produced album of softly exquisite folk songs.

Quite frankly, the first song, ‘Ekarma’ (which is a lonely island song) possesses the vocal sublimity of John Martyn in his ‘Johnny Too Good’ voice that bled heart valves in songs like ‘Baby Please Come Home’ and ‘Our Love” from the wonderful Grace And Danger album. It’s a hummed ghost dance of a song, with its high notes giving Chris Isaak’s ‘Wicked Game’ a run for first place in the high jump vocal contest. And yet, the percussion (Thank you Ethan Johns!) stamps Earthy dust and keeps the tune from escaping into the great beyond.

The second song, ‘Sinking Boats’, is percussive and aggressive, which (once again!) fuses the juxtaposed drums against Sam’s ephemeral and melodic vocal. But again, for fans of (the great) John Martyn, there is a lot of deeply driven beauty to love here, and there’s always room for yet another heartfelt song that burns with “Go tell your children not to do what we have done” cautionary concern.

’18 And Sleeping’ gets nicely guitar-strummed acoustic, with a pleasing pulse that flows into a narcotic-laced (and highly addictive) chorus. A piano (played by jazz guy Neil Crowley!) adds a soft touch. This tune is a puzzle with all its pieces perfectly in place. Where other Black Feathers songs travel to circle melodic deep space moons, ‘18’ floats in a warm, folky, and very comfortable orbit.

The songs continue to hover in suspended (and very quiet acoustic) charm. ‘Falling’ throbs with beauty that bleeds pathos. And Sam’s vocal vibrates with sadness and loss. This is private a humanity graciously shared through song. Then, the title track, ‘Black Feathers’, evokes the absolute voiced purity of David Crosby and even rivals DC’s vocal on the deeply-pulsed ode to love ‘Guinevere’ and her melodic and magical “green eyes”. And truly, ‘Black Feathers’ echoes the Blue Afternoon melancholy of yet another brilliant vocalist (with octaves to burn!), Tim Buckley. The song gets edgy with its sharp grace and equally sad melodic glance. It’s an ode to heartbroken personal loss. Ditto for the acoustic portrait of ‘Be Free’, with its echoed vocal, slight piano, and that patient percussion. But Sam’s voice is front and center and simply silkscreens age-old and weary pictographs into the vibrations of this tune and begs them to “speak to me”. This is whispered confessional stuff. And it is stuff that somehow manages to quell “blue afternoon” time.

Then, ‘Into The Night’ simply toys with Sam’s talent. Vocals (in various octaves) sing to the universe, about “when the bullets fly” while the backing band swells with protective violin heavy emotion. And, oddly, the high notes echo the absolute beauty of the best of the Robin Gibb vocals on any exquisite early Bee Gees song like ‘I Started A Joke’. That’s high praise, even when subtracting numerous high praise points for ‘Staying Alive’ and ‘You Should Be Dancing’! Of course, several high praise points were added to the mix for their song, ‘Lonely Days’, because the brothers Gibb etched the immortal words, “Where would I be without my woman?” into the radio brain waves of my “lonely days” and “lonely nights” awkward adolescent life!

And while we’re in the midst of discussing The Bee Gees, it’s important to mention Barclay James Harvest (who “mined” similar “disaster” songs) with circa their album, Time Honoured Ghosts, with their autumnal and very acoustic and finely textured tunes like ‘Jonathan’ and ‘Hymn For The Children’.

And this all gets soulful and serenades the memory of The Band’s Richard Manuel’s falsetto in ‘Whispering Pines’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology)’.

‘Granite’ is yet another nicely-percussion paved song with a tough bass, violin (curtesy of Sam Sweeney!) and gentle piano—all of which anchor the acoustic guitar and SB’s vocals that once again conjure John Martyn’s ‘Solid Air’ tenderness; and it a song that takes a sideways glance at the Nick Drake and his “way to blue”. This is a sublime tune that umlauts the word “Amazing” into that “Technicolour Dreamcoat”.

The songs continue to pulse beautiful footprints on distant moons: “Fools Of Saturn’ is simple, direct, dramatic, and acoustic to a fault. And the tune sings of “being fools again”; and oddly enough, conjures the voice of Neil Young in his most sensitive mode, and that’s rather strange, but (to throw a big Hail Mary), this one skirts the possibility of an unreleased Buffalo Springfield song. And, ‘The Sleeper’ is a deep acoustic dramatic anchor that conjures the lighter than air Californian vibe with big drums and a “take easy” sound; and the song, in all honesty, could have been one of those (really worthwhile) bonus tracks with David Crosby (to mention him again!) on vocals from a never released (because they couldn’t agree on anything!) CSN record. That is pretty high praise (with no points for disco popularity subtracted!).

Suffice it to say, Sam Brookes can hold his harmony and keeps good company with the folk singing elite. The great (and before-mentioned) John Martyn once sang, “Bless the weather”. Well, Black Feathers sends its own prayer (coated with many colours!) into the warm summer night stars with exquisite ever-present vocals and patiently choreographed slow-danced songs.

Bill Golembeski

Artist’s website:

‘Sinking Boats’ – official video:

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