Sproatly Smith’s River Wye Suite, despite Heraclitus’s contention that “No man ever steps in the same river twice”, certainly drinks from the same sourced waters into which John Lennon suggested we should “Turn off your Mind/Relax and float downstream”.
Indeed, “Tomorrow Never” (ever) “Knows”.
This is dreamy and sometimes dark pastural psych folk music that drifts over the mystical countryside of Herefordshire pulsed by the twin melodic souls of Ian Smith and Matt King.
Oh my – this music would, indeed (again!), make all “slithy toves” and the “mimsy borogroves” do something to make all those “mome raths outgrabe”! The first lengthy tune, ‘Afon Gwy/The Water Is Wide’, begins with river current sounds and a spoken instruction to “a gear shift inside of you” which flows into the beautiful acoustic guitar, bass, piano, sitar, violin, tabla instrumental bit that morphs into a vocal song with the gentle voices of Sarah Smith and Kate Gathercole. The tune echoes the sound of Chris Simpson’s Magna Carta during their melodic moments like ‘Isle Of Skye’ and ‘Midwinter’ or even the sublime acoustic moments during their adventurous Seasons album. And it also taps into the mystical British folk vein that glances in reverence at the sacred words etched into the quietude of so many ancient stones.
The spoken/musical vibe continues. ‘Warm With The Light Of The Sun’ instructs with words about becoming “a dragonfly and a river”. Or, as The Beatles once evoked in the joyous simplicity of the words, “Yeah, yeah, yeah”. But ‘River Song #2’ unleashes those “furious bander snatches”, with more sitar, vocals, percussion, sinister electric fuzzy guitar, and sonic Hawkwind synth sounds. In juxtaposition to the first tunes, this song unleashes a mysterious girth that parallels that eerie line in Coleridge’s ‘Kubla Khan’ opium “stately pleasure dome” poem, that describes “a deep romantic chasm” that is “enchanted/As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted”, all of which only enhances the surface river beauty.
Then, in yet another turnabout, ‘Hidden Depths’ is a sound collage, with sax, odd music hall vocals, all sorts of weird sounds, some flute, some more odd music hall vocals, a few spoken words, and a trumpet that recalls the sort of thing the post-punk (and really cool!) band Rip Rig and Panic would put on the B-side of a single like, ‘You’re My Kind Of Climate’. Yeah, this is strange and (sort of) spooky stuff. And it allows for use of the descriptive word, groovy, without even a hint of a reviewer’s satire. This one seeps into the deep synapses of the brain.
And by the way, as my friend, Kilda Defut, says, “This album mumbles good philosophy”.
But the psych-folk returns. ‘The Merry Month Of May’ starts with yet another spoken soliloquy, but then flows into an acoustic song with more dual voices of Sarah and Kate, while keyboards swirl into the ever circular fluted universe. Nice. And ‘Beltane Rain’ has an instrumental depth that counts infinite raindrops, with more heavenly vocals. This is music that doesn’t “rock around”, but rather stops any “clock” with a featherbed muffled comfort. Such beauty!
And a strangely voiced crowd introduces ‘Ethelbert And Mary’, which is a languid instrumental thought that gets chaotic with a (sort of solemn) jazzy free form sound. Nice, again! Ditto for the ‘We Are The Sea’, with its very stone circular spoken, acoustic guitar, and funeral organ fueled “bad moon rising” prophetic chant. This is delightfully tense Wicker Man stuff. And those darn “bander snatches” are “furious”, once again! Then, ‘Snake Day’ continues that thought. This is a nightmare’s odd artistic madcap laugh (and a live recording to boot!). Then, ‘From An Acorn’ flows with the mystical acid folk vibe that drips with a wobbly Renaissance “rubber soul”, and then adds a brief jazz beauty.
There’s a return to ‘We Are The Sea (Octophonic mix)’ which reprises a mystical big percussion glance in continual reverence into all those sacred words etched into an ancient stone, with added delicious drama.
Finally, ‘End” is a simple melodic bit that fades slowly into any remembered acoustic psychedelic sunset that dances to the melody of ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ because, of course, “Life is but a dream”. Brilliant!
Indeed, (my beloved) Barclay James Harvest were quite right when John Lees sang the song, ‘A Tale Of Two Sixties’. John Ketwig, in his Vietnam memoir … and a hard rain fell…, wrote, “The butterfly cannot crawl back into the cocoon and change back into a familiar caterpillar”. But, thankfully, Sproatly Smith paints with Wonderland colours and breathes downstream omnipresence into Alice’s also familiar caterpillar, who is always ready to give, just like John Lennon’s ‘Tomorrow’ tune, very melodic and quite sound advice.
Artists’ website: https://sproatlysmith.bandcamp.com/track/river-song-2
‘We Plough And Sow (Octophonic Mix):