Begun in 2019 and completed in lockdown, produced by Merry Hell’s John Kettle, Morning’s Coming, the second album by the North West quartet stakes an immediate claim to 2021’s ultimate best of list, Cherlene Walmsley effortlessly securing her place among the great and most emotionally expressive British folk rock voices.
The title track opens proceedings, a waterfall of cascading chords telling an aching tale of lovers separated by distance as, complemented by David Windsor’s restrained violin and accompanied by simple acoustic guitar, she sings “every time I call you nobody picks up the call”, not knowing why she can’t make contact. It goes without saying that, while it may not have been inspired by the lockdowns, it clearly resonates.
Naturally, any self-respecting folk band should have a transportation ballad somewhere in their canon, and so it is that guitarist Pete Cunliffe steps up to sing ‘Australia’, a self-penned account of William John Taylor, a working man shipped off to Van Diemen’s Land on the Henry Porter to serve twenty years hard labour for stealing food from his neighbour to feed his family. I don’t know if Taylor was an actual person, but interestingly, while not a transport ship, Henry Porter was indeed the name of one such convict.
Up next is the deeply romantic and metaphysical ‘Another Life’, an undisputed contender for song of the year, as, again accompanied by yearning violin and acoustic guitar, Walmsley sings of a love that reincarnates over the ages as reborn souls seek out their eternal partner. It is, quite simply, magnificent.
Again concerned with timelessness, featuring Micah Hampson on warm trumpet evoking the glow of Northern brass, Cunliffe takes the lead for the slow waltzing ‘Le Verre À Pied’, a portrait of a traditional Paris café in the Latin quarter where all human life can be found and where the sepia photographs on the walls and newspapers stacked high at tables bear testament to the passing years.
Duetting with Walmsley and backed by David Windsor’s pizzicato violin, Morning’s Coming continues with the gentle swayalong of ‘London Town’, a call and response number recounting the struggles of working away from home and family, drenched by the rain rather than warmed by the sun, closing with a final flourish from Windsor.
Weathering hard times is to the fore again on the circling fingerpicked and violin caressed traditional sounding melody of ‘In Your Company’ sung in the voice of a man feeling lost in a world without empathy and an increasing divide between the haves and have nots, finding comfort and strength with someone to take their hand and guide them, whether you want to think of that as friend, lover or God.
Again set to a slow swaying tempo, ‘A Place Of Our Own’ sees Walmsley back on lead and a return to a plea to set aside the things that divide us, to stop taking sides, to see how commonality and to work for the betterment of all we can be and find the true majesty in the world. On a similar theme, Cunliffe sings the acoustic strummed ‘Old Way’, a Celtic-flavoured ballad that, drawing on the imagery of maps, markers, stones and symbols returns the ancient paths and truths that have brought us here, a reminder that it takes skill on the causeway to navigate from the maypole to the island.
Kettle adds his electric guitar to the declaration of love and support that, again employing images of harbour, water and light, informs the gradually gathering power of ‘Now’ before its soft and soothing resolution gives way to the optimistic and upbeat anthemic guiding hand closing track ‘New Lights’ as Walmsley calls to ignore the “fake philosophers and prophets, who will lead you to their path of best reward”, to not listen to the voices of derision and instead to join hands “go strongly on your way“. As per the title, it’s luminous.
Their debut album deservedly won acclaim and awards far and wide. Listening to Morning’s Coming, it’s clear they were only just warming up.
Artists’ website: www.visionthingband.com
‘Morning’s Coming’ – official video: