The name of Andi Lee, recording here under the name The Ashen, may be familiar to you from his time with the metal band My Silent Wake or his more recent, more experimental collaboration with Hilliat Fields, The Flower Of All Good. His new CD Slowdive, though some of its lyrical themes are consistent with the heavy rock and metal ensembles of his earlier career, is different again. It’s not exactly a folk record (though it includes one traditional song and a Dylan number), but shows traditional/folk influences, and can certainly be described as fitting in with “a melancholy folk rock project“, though there’s a raw passion here that transcends melancholy. The other songs are all written by Andi Lee, who plays all instruments except the drums on ‘Lost To The Sea’ and ‘Slowdive’, which are played by Juraj Schrantz.
- In his accompanying notes, Andi acknowledges some of the musicians who have inspired him, including Leonard Cohen. And there is, in fact, something Cohen-esque about ‘Lost To The Sea’ with its hints of religious metaphor. Nicely done, and suits his voice.
- It’s unlikely that anyone reading this review hasn’t come across the traditional ‘Blackwaterside’ (or ‘Blackwater Side’) in some version or other: it has, after all, been recorded by such luminaries as Paddy Tunney, Anne Briggs, Sandy Denny et al. It has to be admitted that Andi is not the best singer to have recorded it (but then neither was Bert Jansch!) but he treats the song with more respect than many performers I’ve heard. Actually, it’s quite refreshing to hear a version that doesn’t impose a strict folk-rock strict tempo straitjacket on an essentially freestyle Irish melody, or try to hit you between the ears with the virtuosity of the performance.
- ‘…And The Swallows Spoke At Dawn’ is a simple but effective guitar piece with what I guess is string synth and framed with birdsong.
- ‘Slowdive’ sounds very folky with its modal melody and mandolin breaks, though the words are very much of today – “I wished upon a falling satellite…” The vocals are a little strained in places, but it’s an excellent song well-arranged.
- ‘Masters Of War’ is the song originally recorded by Bob Dylan on the Freewheelin Not, to be honest, my favourite Dylan song, though its message is as pertinent today as it was when it was written.
- I love the punning title of ‘Last Action Zero’, and the wordplay in the harrowing, haunting lyric, but don’t expect a comic song. It’s a very effective performance: in some respects the best track on the CD.
- ‘Weep While You Can’ is a song about impermanence and seizing the day, set to a rather attractive tune slightly reminiscent of Tom Paxton or Eric Anderson. I think this one might creep into my own repertoire.
- In the interests of full disclosure, I should say that I actually played a small part in the creation of Slowdive as one of the members of the “Internet Choir” featured on the final track, ‘Love Without Borders’. But don’t let that put you off. The lyric harks back somewhat to My Silent Wake’s characteristic themes of faith and loss of faith, but with some references that specifically address many of the things that are so wrong about the 21st century. The sparse electric guitar and percussion morph at the end into four lines sung by the aforementioned Internet Choir with a very church-y organ accompaniment. It’s a stunning and uplifting finish to an album that mostly tends towards the downbeat.
The CD will be released on September 1st, and ‘Love Without Borders’ is available now as a single.
I like this a lot. The sincerity of Andi Lee’s delivery transcends his sometimes uncertain vocals, the arrangements are well-judged, and the lyrics are excellent. I shall be fascinated to see where his musical journey takes him next.
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He calls it a rough take – ‘Blackwater Side’: