Slow Town Clock is the nom de plume of Jamie Leven (no relation), originally from Glasgow but now resident in northern England. Crossing Tides is collection of songs begun almost ten years ago and inspired by a journey to the western isles. Jamie plays guitar and harmonica and is supported by a number of musicians who play mostly conventional instruments but make sometimes unconventional music. I don’t know what John Hirst’s haunted dulcimer is but it fits well with his vibes and percussion which make a significant contribution to the album.
Jamie doesn’t offer any explanatory notes with the songs but provides photographs, some of which may have originally inspired the songs or support the inspiration from a later perspective. That works. So what is Crossing Tides about? Primarily it’s about the landscape that Jamie travelled through but also about its history and the passage of time.
The album is opened by an atmospheric instrumental. ‘The Crossing’ heralded by a field recording of the sea at Tynemouth, is an improvisation that grew out of the search for an introduction to the first song, ‘Golden Light’, also the first song written. Jamie’s lyrics are poetic and minimalist, particularly on this track, but the accompanying photograph suggests that the inspiration was the light that outlines clouds under certain conditions. For Jamie, every cloud has a golden lining.
‘A Giant Hand’ depicts rocks emerging into view as the tide recedes – with lovely acoustic guitar – while the doom-laden ‘Walls That Were A House’ is about a ruin, possibly on South Uist if Jamie’s chronology is accurate. I like the juxtaposition of sea and land here. ‘The Long Far Away’ heads for folk-rock territory and seeks to imagine the earliest inhabitants of the islands as does ‘Old Lopsided Lightning Bolt’, one of their monuments – a Celtic cross if the photograph is accurate.
‘The Ballad Of The Greylag Geese’ confronts a modern problem and its solution; culling the birds that devastate crops. You may recoil at the idea but on the edge of the world where life is hard choices are hard, too. The title track seems to be about Jamie’s feelings about his journey while ‘The Edge Of The Land’ could be about an actual shoreline or the metaphorical edge of Scotland as it faces the Atlantic ocean.
Crossing Tides is a lovely album, sometimes stark and simple, sometimes musically rich and complex with just enough words to convey meaning. The supporting musicians seem unobtrusive but the music they make is anything but. Sophie Wren’s second vocals and piano accordion give a folky feel as does Dean Parker’s mandolin but his electric guitar tells a different story while Paul Susans’ bass provides the record’s foundation. You should seek it out.
Artist’s website: https://www.slowtownclockmusic.co.uk/
‘A Giant Hand’ – live in the studio: