I’ve long been an admirer of Jenny Sturgeon’s work, both as a soloist and lately with Salt House, and I suspect that The Living Mountain will soon come to be regarded as a classic. The music and the record’s title are inspired by the poetry of Nan Shepherd who wrote about the region in which Jenny grew up – The Cairngorms. Shepherd wrote The Living Mountain in the 1940s but her book remained unpublished for thirty years and she said “No-one knows the mountain completely who has not slept on it”. Jenny doesn’t tell us if she has done that but this record of musical and lyric pictures takes the listener as close to the reality as it’s possible to be while staying warm and dry at home.
So close to nature is Jenny that she plays a guitar made from reclaimed Scottish wood – Scots pine, walnut and oak – and it has a beautiful tone. The first sounds we hear, however, are those of running water and birdsong, part of a continuous field recording which is woven into the songs. All the songs are originals – two are adapted directly from Shepherd’s poetry and Jenny co-wrote one with her mother, Annie.
The lyrics are surprisingly down to earth, poetic yes, but the pictures Jenny paints are also simple stories of walking the mountains. A verse from the first track, ‘The Plateau’, is not untypical: “Freedom off the well-trod path / against the river’s flow /The dizzy heights release me / and bring me home”. In ‘The Group’ she sings of swimming in Loch Dubh and the sounds of guns on the grouse moors. In ‘Air And Light’ the talk is of setting out with map and compass and no destination in mind while the closing ‘Being’ sums up what the mountains mean.
In support are producer Andy Bell on synth and percussion, Grant Anderson on bass and a string section of Mairì Campbell and Su-a Lee. Jenny plays keyboards, dulcimer and whistle as well as guitar but the field recording is as essential an instrument as any other and the cover includes a map reference to take you to the very spot where it was captured. The Living Mountain is a very special record filled with haunting words and delightful melodies and arrangements.
Artist’s website: www.jennysturgeonmusic.com
‘Air And Light’ – official video: