Joshua Burnell’s Flowers Where The Horses Sleep is a wondrous album of original songs with vivid and very modern folk roots.
The first song, ‘Labels’, testifies to the oldest wisdom, “Throw your labels away because love has no use for them”; yet it manages to sing (with nice violin!) from folk founts eternal. Joshua’s voice, not unlike the current Fairport’s Chris Leslie, is emotive with soft intensity.
Then this folk music sports a “pink carnation” drives a “pickup truck” and is “out of luck”, in the very best American Pie sort of way. ‘Le Fey’ echoes the very radio-friendly (yet artistically—street cred-really cool music) of the breakthrough 70’s folk records like Don Mclean’s (before-mentioned) American Pie, Al Stewart’s Past, Present And Future, and (my beloved) Magna Carta’s Seasons. ‘Le Fay’ is up-beat with an urgent vibe. A piano pounds a melodic under carriage to the song that soars with organ, big percussion, strings, guitar, and Joshua’s wide-ranging and fervent vocals. It’s a huge and impressive song, although in all fairness, it has little to do with folk music, but rather rocks with prog flair.
Ahh – then there’s ‘The Ballad Of Mark Jeffrey’, a powerful song connected to the folk root through a clever (and persistent) mandolin, a tough staccato melody melded to a chanted chorus, and British history, all of which chronicle the tragic tale of the song’s namesake. “Big Mark” (as he was known), being a victim of an abusive and alcoholic father, took to what Ray Davies called a “dead end street”, burgled a lot (with the help of his brother Luke), got caught, had (from time to time) a minor problem with anger-management, watched while his arch-enemy John Mark died; and (as they said in an episode of Seinfeld) “yada, yada, yada”, he ended up digging graves, hence the line, “I’ll be digging the stones for the bones of dead”. But in true folk Robin Hood hero tradition, our “Big Mark” gets inked into history as “A terror to those in authority. He always fought against injustice…” Whew! (And thank you, Wikipedia!!).
Put simply, it is a brilliant song. And to put it even more simply, the tune is (to quote Mr. Spock from the original Star Trek series during which he used the word forty-six times) “fascinating”.
In contrast, ‘Invisible Strings’ is a gentle feather bed of a folk song with positive pathos in the line, “You may not run like others do. But son, you’ve got wings that others can’t see”. It conjures the tough beauty of Ralph McTell’s ‘Michael In The Garden’, or to cite a more modern poignant glance, Reg Meuross’ ‘Counting My Footsteps to You’. Thankfully, some vinyl vibrations are forever immune from stylus wear or a sad tear’s tear.
The rest of the album is folk music that echoes, if I may, Anthems In Eden. ‘Run With Me’ is quiet in its harmony, yet it paints a desperate portrait as, “A doe jumps through the underbrush/Leaping for its life, just like us”. Bruce Cockburn once sang, “We’re lovers in a dangerous time’. Ditto. ‘Let Me Fall Down’ is piano-laced and music hall pumped up-tempo tune whose lyric deflates expectations with lines like “But when you pick the apples and feast on the prize/ Don’t forget that maggots turn into flies”.
And, as my friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “Anyone for tennis —or perhaps, yet another Richard Thompson song?”
‘Outside’ is large in its simplicity. Nothing else needs to be said.
Then things get really folky with ‘Joan Of Greenwood’. This is pure antiquated music that pumps a Thomas Hardy cautionary tale of an innocent maiden (or two) and “the wretchedness rake in the land”. Tess and her d’ Ubervilles get crossed circuited with the mediæval ballad, ‘The Demon Lover’. This is classic folk writing. Yeah, it’s that good.
‘Look At Us Now’ conjures the quasi-religious vibe of (my beloved and long forgotten) Decameron, and the Johnny Coppin-Dave Bell beauty of their final album, Tomorrow’s Pantomime. That’s big stuff to me.
The final song, ‘Two Stars’, touches the before-mentioned Don Mclean voiced purity of a naked folk song that, somehow, manages to paint with yet another Vincent paintbrush, that sings to the stars, yet loves the bright colours of humanity’s every day and everywhere musical heart.
The lovely title – Flowers Where Horses Sleep – is, according to Joshua’s website, taken from the words of “a Japanese-American woman who had been interned in a U.S. concentration camp during WW2” and who “told how the prisoners, forced to live in stables, grew flowers to bring a touch of beauty into the ugly reality of their days”.
You know, sometimes it’s tough to be human. Let’s just say that. But, thank you Joshua Burnell, because this album is, indeed, “a touch of (always needed) beauty”.
Artist’s website: www.joshuaburnell.co.uk
‘Le Fay’ – official video: