With Songs From The Wheel, the follow up to his 2021 debut album Songs Of The Sea, in company with multi-instrumentalist Marty Hailey, Su-a Lee on cello, fiddle player Rachel Walker, Marcus Britton on brass and back-ups by Heather Macleod, drawing on such influences as Dylan and Cohen, the Liverpudlian singer-songwriter offers up a set of involving narratives and observations on life and the world in which it exists.
It opens in storytelling mode with the strummed, harmonica wailing, rhythmically swaying ‘Antony And Cleopatra Head For The Highlands’, the tale of two lovers who rescued each other (“Oh Cleo don’t you know you rewrote my history/Found me in a flea-bitten Sauchiehall speakeasy… Oh Tony when you found me I was leaving the bar/You swept me off my feet like some Hollywood star”) and, while their plans may have fallen apart, they still have each other (“Our ship might have sailed but I’m still standing here/So whisper sweet nothings into my ear/And hold me in your arms till the sun disappears/I’m your lover tonight and a thousand more years”), that ends on the great line “I came for the view, I got caught in a hurricane”.
Next up, not a cover of the Cohen song but, like Anna B Savage’s title of the same name, a variation on it, accompanied by cello ‘Chelsea Hotel #3’ riffs on the original both in its melody, opening line (“I remember you well/In the Chelsea Hotel”) and snapshot of a brief encounter between lost desperate souls minus the fellatio. The fingerpicked, violin-coloured Cohenesque ‘The Story of Lazarus’ echoes the theme of being lost (“A shepherd searching for a manger/A child who reads words he cannot understand”) and salvation (“With every sunrise you’ll remember/The tomb that opened, the light that flooded in”) before the dynamic picks up on the strummed acoustic Celtic-tinged anthemic chords, pulsing strings and harmonica of ‘Swallows’, a song that starts with a farmer’s celebration of his child (“On the day that you were born/Morning swallows kissed the sun/Brilliant butterflies at dawn/Danced upon the heather/On the day that you were five/All the forests came alive”) and ends with a passing of the torch (“On the day you will but see/Shadows where I used to be…Leave the dead to make their own way home/Now the song is yours to make your own”).
Piano joins the fingerpicked acoustic and handclaps for the gentle folksiness of ‘Wedding Song’ with its bucolic images of “Dancers in the morning air/Wagons mending in the square/On the cobbles by the harbour stairs” as he sings “Consider where we marry/Consider where we build it/Who’s to say that we should worry/Who’s to stand between the gentle lines/Upon the parchment world we draw?”, though a certain ambiguity must be noted as he asks “who is going to say what hurts her/Going to save her/Going to save her here”.
Played on circling fingerpicked acoustic with harmonica he returns to Cohen-influenced storytelling for the dark five-minute first-person middle-ages narrative of ‘The Robber’s Tale’ (“My mother was a drunken whore/With dogs I slept upon the floor/The sewer by the open door/The only river I could ever see/My mother died, the sheriff came/With hungry eyes my coin to claim/I bathed him there in pitch and flame/And fled the voices calling after me”) which touches on how we are shaped by both the forces around us and the roots from which we spring (“some men die before they live/And some men take more than they give/And some men sin more than forgive/Well damn me for my greed I am all three”), the condemned man going defiantly to his fate (“For you know that I was born to burn/And let the hangman’s keep be earned/So to the devil I’ll return/And pay the price you gather here to see”).
Turning to organ-backed, countrified waltzing, ‘White Sand / Black Star’ with its underlying theme of self-destruction finds the worn down narrator (“Mary I’m tired/Of walking on wires/And wiping the dust from my eyes”) in New Mexico for a song that conjures Oppenheimer’s response to the first atom bomb test (White Sands was the name of the testing area) in “We sent out a cable/To the archangel Gabriel/And asked for the power of the sun/Then we built us a black star/Out on the white sands/And told all the cameras to come/But after the thunder/The handshakes and wonder/The silence came down like a shroud on everyone”) and the loss of idealism in the face of reality (“Don’t we all have something/We used to believe in/Before the truth came along and got in the way?”).
Etched out on banjo notes, ‘The Place We Hide Our Hearts’ provides an instrumental bridge into the John Prine-like penultimate slow waltztime ‘Rainbows’, another song of loss, despair (“Ashes in cardboard under the dashboard/I never could put on display/
Nothing belongs to us/Nothing belongs to us anyway”), epiphany (“this is my promise to walk through this forest/Gathering rainbows to place on your pillow/Until the end of my days
For the time that I don’t own is not mine to not own”) and redemption (“Jesus was waiting, drinking beer and sun-bathing/The most beautiful thing I have seen/He said ‘Son you have found me, for all of your wandering/And come to your own resting place’“).
It ends with ‘The Wheel’, a near six-minute circling fingerpicked folk blues that put me in mind of Tom Rush but more pointedly echoes Peter, Paul and Mary’s anti-war themed ‘The Great Mandala’ in its vision of the journey of mankind over time with its allusions to revolutions (“Freedom they cried to the faraway sky/And parted the king from his head”) and possibly the Holocaust (“I saw the trains on the hill/I saw millions of eyes in the chambers of sighs”), ending with a call to those crushed by the gears of the wheel (“Oh hero who falls to the sea/Oh soldier who’s shot where you stand/Oh captain who drowns where your ship runs aground/Oh farmer laid under your land/Oh woman with child and with none” and who “labour from dusk unto dawn” to be ultimately redeemed and reunited in the cosmic embrace as the wheel turns, the song ending with
“Oh I am the forest of flies
And I am the garden of gold
Oh I am the ghosts of the voices long gone
And I am the stories they told
Oh I am the start and the end
I am the dark, dreary dream
I am the hand that will welcome you home
Turning the gears of the wheel”
On the opening track he sings how “a revolution starts with the faintest of notions, just a little push sets the wheels in motion, next thing you know there’s a mighty commotion”. That seems like a pretty good description of the acclaim this outstanding album is destined to spark.
Artist’s website: www.iandavidgreen.com
‘Antony And Cleopatra Head For The Highlands’ – solo live: