You’ll be familiar with the world wide web, but research has shown that, beneath every forest and wood, there is a complex underground web of roots, fungi and bacteria helping to connect trees and plants to one another – The Woodwide Web. Nearly 500 million years old, this subterranean social network has become known as the ‘wood wide web’ and now affords the title and theme for Brighton-based Roland’s latest album working, as ever with violinist Simon Yapp and backing vocalist and occasional cellist Brione Jackson, crafting lush arrangements enfolding often impressionistic lyrics.
It opens with the falsetto soaring, piano-accompanied, gently swaying ‘Not Alone’, Jade Woodhouse on cello a title which rather speaks for itself as, using sea-going imagery, it encourages us to metaphorically ‘row to the lighthouse’.
Riding a jittery, Eastern-flavoured percussive and strings-swept funky rhythm, ‘Giant!’ turns the lens on the corporate entities that overshadow our lives and how we live them (“Giant overseeing very step I take/Giant doesn’t like payments late”), the pace reined back in for the piano and strings waltzing ‘Gold In The Dust’, a song written from the perspective of a tree that speaks of how nature is interconnected, “the trees and flowers interlocked forever with bees” , the pulsing chorus demanding “value us like gold in the dust”.
The destruction of the natural world and the loss of biodiversity also informs ‘Nothing Could Grow There’ where, this time Sarah Davison on cello, he contemplates the consequences asking “how are we going to put food on the table”, the songs extending into economic hardship (“borrowed all the bank would lend/Living in the land of the make believe free/But the freedom we had wasn’t what our love could bear”).
‘In It For The Ride’ looks for answers and solutions, taking things “one footstep at a time” so that “inch by inch we’ll climb” and “beginning from where we left off to starting again”, which leads appropriately into the waltztime floating ‘Wilder Things’, pulsing with Davison’s cello and celebrating rewilding as “wilder things this earth reclaims”. The www impetus for the album finds expression in ‘Can’t Lose Anymore’, a chiming, softly melodic and airy song, here Jackson on cello, written after a visit to the Eden Project and learning how trees and plants communicate and fluttering with references to various butterflies, the ecological theme continuing into ‘New Life’ and the need to learn to live in balance with the environment rather than destroying it, “rising from the fog to find a way”. Roland and his children reflected this during the pandemic, combating feelings of being helpless by planting an area of wildflowers in the garden and seeing how it attracted bees and butterflies, leading to writing ‘Wildflowers’ (“stopped us falling apart… in the soil we planted out faith”) which opens quietly with a backdrop of Yapps violin and viola and Davison’s cello before, symbolically, erupting into a jubilant flurry of energy in the chorus. The beauty of the natural world provides the theme for the softly swaying strum, piano and pizzicato violin of the Bacharach-like ‘Beyond Words’ and the need to forge a communal will to preserve and nurture it, the album ending with the mid-tempo melody and beat of ‘This Movie’ and the call to write our own screenplays rather than being constrained by another’s script that has taken away our starring role in our own lives. Log in to his server and connect.
Artist’s website: www.ianroland.com
‘Beyond Words’ – official video: