Welsh singer-songwriter David Ian Roberts’ From The Harbour is a colourful labyrinth of introspective folk music with an eternal depth. It’s a Persian carpeted melodic pathway that resonates with (the great) Ralph McTell’s comment on his first album, Eight Frames A Second: “Paint the soul. Never mind the legs and arms”.
The songs paint with Turner watercolour brush strokes (Rain, Steam and Speed—The Great Western Railway is a favorite!). And they sing with a Debussy fawn’s voice. ‘Slow Burn’ is an acoustic tune, with guitar, piano, and David Ian’s soft voice which whispers like really nice ghosts discussing the beauty of John Martyn’s Bless The Weather album. Then an electric guitar gets spooky. To be fair: the tune echoes (no pun intended!) the warm acoustic stuff from Pink Floyd’s More soundtrack. The same could be said of ‘Walker’, which is languid to a beautiful Roger Waters’ ‘If’ (from Atom Heart Mother) fault, with a somber viola bit at the end.
There are more acoustic brush strokes: ‘Dream Of The Fallen’ is guitar and voice pure, and perhaps, it touches Nick Drake’s solitude. Now, it’s important to note that From The Harbour is a covid 19 locked into seclusion created album, recorded in his hometown of Cardiff. David Ian plays all the instruments and searches the collective Jungian inner soul. This one’s a pensive psych vacation. That said, ‘Distant Planets’ is a piano and electric guitar-laced instrumental that recalls the purity of Germany’s Popol Vuh in their quiet Seligpreisung moments. “Levitate’ strums like an Anthony Phillips’ post Genesis Geese And The Ghost period song. Lots of slow and dense drama here.
You know, another great British folk singer Michael Chapman sang, “Among the trees I have spent my summers in a haze/Of lazy afternoons, watching the rain/As it patterns the verandah then disappears again”. This album does that, too. It drips rainwater, just as it desires to devour an exotic and very acoustic curry. ‘Hold The Line’ gets really complex with the interplay of various instruments and drifts with a smokery vibe, that converses in a sort of jazzy Eastern-vibe free folk forum. ‘Now Or Never’ shimmers with piano, strummed acoustic guitar, cello, and a “summer haze” of a vocal and the instrumental, ‘Red Desert’, stretches into a melodic daydream, and could be a soundtrack (if such a linguistical need were to be, for some weird reason, suddenly required) for the word, languorous.
And speaking of progressive rock (of which I am a big fan!), there’s a lot to love here. Granted, From The Harbour is never going to threaten Close To The Edge for the much coveted “topper most of the popper most” greatest prog album of all time title. No side long epics here, but as we prog heads know, tucked between the those ten-minute plus tunes, is often found a subtle moment of acoustic respite. Genesis’ ‘Dusk’ from Trespass comes to mind. ELP always squeezed in a Greg Lake song like ‘From The Beginning’. Pink Floyd’s ‘Grantchester Meadows’ and the entire (before mentioned) More soundtrack are laced with similar psych beauty. Jethro Tull’s adamantine ‘Aqualung’ is juxtaposed by the brief ‘Cheap Day Return’. Even heavy-duty (and fellow Welshmen) rockers, Budgie, could bulldoze their way through ‘Nude Disintegrating Parachutist Woman”, yet strum the soft ‘Everything In My Heart’. So, imagine an album filled those moments of compressed prog folk brevity. And, please don’t forget my earlier Popol Vuh plug.
The final tune, ‘Took My Time’, is (sort of) onomatopoeic as it slows the pace to a starched whisper, while it probes deep depths of (the before-mentioned) acid-folk quietude. It recalls the lagged allure of Perry Leopold’s album, Experiment In Metaphysics, which (par for the great albums course) was once given away on a Philadelphia street corner(!) and is now a much coveted rarity.
Just so you know, there’s an ad-on Radio mix of the song, ‘Hold The Line’ which is a nice bonus track, but it, perhaps, doesn’t replace the true drama of that (already mentioned) final song, ‘Took My Time’, which touches an ever flowing river, a river filled with Emily Dickinson’s gossamer and the space between the lovers’ touch on Keats’ Grecian Urn. And it’s true: Eternity (while not suggested as a topic for a first date!) is certainly a place to find really nice music—music that in the words of the great Ralph McTell, “paints your mind”.
Artist’s website: http://www.davidianroberts.com/
‘Carillon’ – live: