Scottish singer-songwriter Finn Paul says, accurately enough, that his music “… is about fantastical nonsense; pirates, dreamworlds and mystical islands. But more than that it’s about the methods we use to escape in a society that’s becoming ever more disconnected from reality“. That said, to my ear, the lyrics on his new CD Wind & Stone are not as far out or surreal as that might suggest. In fact, they often hint at an understated but close affinity with the Highlands and islands of the North, though without the explicit political commitment of a Dick Gaughan or Karine Polwart. Regardless, these are very good songs indeed, and suit his distinctive vocals perfectly.
Those vocals, plus Finn’s own guitars and mandolin, are augmented by producer Angus Lyon (keys and accordion), Briona Mannion (violin), Finn Mannion (cello and cajon), Daisy Tempest (drums and backing vocals) and Ben Schofield (backing vocals). The accompaniments are solid without being showy, focusing the listener’s attention on the songs rather than the instrumentation, as seems entirely appropriate to a quality set. of compositions.
Here’s the track listing:
- ‘Spanish Silver’ does indeed bring to mind words like romantic or escapist – “For Spanish Silver / I pledge my heart / for sword and spoil / for freedom sails” – echoing, perhaps, the era of Sir Andrew Barton / Henry Martyn, though the emphasis here is on freedom and adventure rather than the explicit bloodletting of the old ballads.
- ‘The Watcher’ certainly has echoes of faraway places and cultures. It’s not often you find references to Valhalla and the Silk Road in the same lyric, though the adventures here seem altogether more peaceful in intent than the battles of Norse mythology.
- ‘Norwegian Sea’ hints at a story of love lost rather further North than most love stories – or is it a fantasy, or simply a metaphor? Regardless, it’s a fascinating track.
- ‘Treat Her Fair’ refers not to a woman, but to the world, though the politicizing is restrained – “…So let’s stand up to those who wish to buy her / And let them know we’ve / Always been borrowing“. Nicely done.
- The slightly James Taylor-ish guitar introduction to ‘Anna’ leads into a fascinating metaphor/story/portrait in song slightly reminiscent of Leonard Cohen’s ‘Suzanne’, though I think I actually prefer Finn’s song (heresy!). Certainly Anna seems an altogether more comfortable heroine, though clearly she is more than capable of discouraging a visitor from overstaying his welcome. Sooner or later in many of the review CDs I like most, I come across a song that makes me think I might actually like to add it to my own repertoire, and in this case it’s ‘Anna’.
- The appealing love song ‘Fortune’ is also available as a single, and will, I suspect, do very well.
- ‘Dance It All Away’ is a slow, emotive ballad accompanied only by piano.
- ‘Wind & Stone’ returns to the themes of freedom and escape, yet without suggesting loneliness. I particularly like the sparing use of strings on this track, which makes a fine end to the CD.
I tend to mistrust reviews that compare one artist to another in order to convey a general impression of the music being considered, but several plays in, it occurred to me that there was something vaguely familiar about this set. I think perhaps it’s a slight similarity to early Donovan in the vocals, and while Finn Paul is certainly no imitator of Donovan or anyone else, I think there’s also a resemblance in lyrical approach with these characteristic themes of romance, freedom, and escape, expressed through a certain individual approach to mythmaking.
All that aside, this is fine music from a significant talent. I think – hope – we will hear a great deal more from Finn Paul.
‘Fortune’ – official video: