Wren being the recording alias of Laura Adrienne Brady, Pink Stone is the third of her place-based albums, the setting here being Washington‘s Methow Valley, a land of wild mountains and rivers and the traditional homeland of the Methow People. Worn down though battling an undiagnosed illness, in 2016 she accepted an invitation to house-sit a friend’s remote cabin in the woods, the Moose Lodge of the title.
Written largely over the first month and refined by return visits over the years, it was recorded in Indiana under the watchful ear of David Weber and featuring contributions from John Prine guitarist Jason Wilber, flautist Gary Stroutos and the inestimable Krista Detor on keys and backing vocals.
Ranging from the melancholic to the joyful, Pink Stone opens with ‘The Sun Is Going Down’ which, along with viola, features something called a deer-toe rattle and plays as a pastoral romance (“you bring the wood and I’ll bring the wine/The dancing of the moon can keep our only time/Let’s find a lonely roof or a tree that faces west/Let light recall our faces till it sinks beneath the crest”) that sets the foundation for the healing power and imagery of nature that the album enfolds.
Fingerpicked, with Detor on field organ, ‘Pedal Strong’ would seem to relate to a previous foray, here to Spain as she sings of taking a boat and cycling over an island and of a brief doomed fling with one of the locals who didn’t share her wanderlust, returning to the mainland by herself.
Distances between provide the theme of the six-minute, harmonica-laced ‘Tracks’, another airily sung fingerpicked road (or more particularly train) song that counts down the miles as she makes her way back, Detor on piano, there’s more journeys and romantic musings flowing through the descending chords of the surrendering to love ‘Wandering Queen’ where, mining the metaphors, she sings “You’re the current and I’m your bowl/The quiet inlet where the fishes go/Body sleek as an otter’s dive/Fill up my banks till they overflow”.
Another six-minute offering with a piano basis, the title track continues the theme of supportive love and recovery (“Hold me close/I’m falling down… Hold me in stillness/Till I find my way”), shifting into the harmonies of the folksy strum of ‘Come Back River’, featuring American Indian cedar flute, as she sings of recovery, healing and taking different paths, a song I suspect to have a more metaphysical subtext.
With Detor laying down a circling piano pattern, the new age shaded ‘Corn Stalks’ taps into the seasons to speak of the natural cycle of life and rebirth (“We leave and return/We’re old and born again”),before returning to lost relationships (“I let you go in Mexico”) with ‘Kite Out On The Ocean’ (“I still go by your old house/In spring when the cherries bloom/But your windowpane is empty/No secret love note blazes proudly from your room”), Gordon Lowry’s fiddle accentuating the melancholia \s she delivers a bittersweet classical guitar solo.
There more river and water imagery flooding the slow waltz ‘Cedar Tree Boy’, a rumination on the need for freedom in a relationship to keep it alive (“Lover, friend, I can’t call you my own/You’re free like the river/Flow always where you ache and yearn/To my ocean, always return”) rather than ties (“It’s not easy to let you go/Because I want to be the only rowboat your river knows/But if we’re not careful, we’ll block these waters high/No boats, just a dam jealously guarding the sky”).
Given the recurrent themes of love, it’s fitting that it ends in Paris with ‘Eiffel Tower Date’, a complete switch of musical style for a twangy guitar honky-tonking lope, accordion and mouth harp, saw and whistling all out there on the dance floor, even if it is about a romance that, as represented by counting down the years to the promised tryst, never bloomed (“What do you do when he’s not counting anymore? You go to the phone and type it in, but you know/He’s just not counting, anymore”).
Accompanied by a 98 page companion book that goes behind the songs with a collection of essays vignettes, lyrics, correspondence photos and water colour illustrations, Pink Stone is ultimately an album about hope and resilience in trying times. Listening to it should certainly leave you in the, ahem, pink.
Artist’s website: https://www.swimmingrabbitarts.com/wren
‘Come Back River’ – official video: