A reedy-voiced singer-songwriter from Liverpool, armed with an acoustic guitar and harmonica and variously accompanied by accordion, brass, keys, drums, mandolin and strings from members of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Green wrote Songs Of The Sea as a tribute to his late father and, as such, explores such themes as identity, connections, letting go and moving on.
It opens with the strummed, keening waltzing sway of the harmonica framed ‘Oh Beautiful Heart’ with its simple lyric and images of sun, shorelines and treelines, a reflection on a time of childhood innocence, introducing the motif of water that runs throughout.
A sprightlier fingerpicked cascade of notes with handclaps percussion, the melody shimmering and scampering, the equally reflective Submarines speaks of time passing (“this is the house that we built…our steps touched this ground where weeds now grow…plans became moments left behind”), the title offering the metaphor of battening down the hatches of your mind on a song about depression (“Gun-metal stairs/Called you down into the gloom”) and shutting yourself off from the world (“don’t forget to come up for some air”).
‘Born Under A Northern Light’ is a thing of Celtic-tinged splendour with its circling melody line, the gradual building of the instruments, the lyrics referencing both wartime (“Come on boys you know you’ve got them on the hop/Remember to stand tall when we send you over the top”) and a stirring sense of regional pride (“When I stare at the horizon you do not see what I can see/For you were not born under a northern light”) and seeing “the beauty in the broken”.
Marrying a fingerpicked traditional feel with an Eastern undercurrent to the way the verses are phrased, burnished by the strings section, ‘Sailboats’ returns to the water and a theme of the ebb and flow of time on which we are all bobbing sailboats, and the changes it brings in a poignant portrait of father and son sitting and contemplating what has been and what lies ahead as the latter offers “Sit not by my grave, son, gaze not to the sea/My father will live in the man you will be/And your sorrow will not profit me”.
Opening with a vague drone and fingerpicked notes before shifting into a jaunty tempo, it continues looking out to sea for ‘Tall Ships’, another memory, this of how, eager to see the ships sail in to the docks, “We jumped the sea wall, we couldn’t wait to be the one/To make the first call and point the way to everyone”. It could be of two children now grown or perhaps father and son, the image of the ships, masters of the ocean, extending to their own lives, before things turn bittersweet in its “driftwood memories” as, “tricked by time”, he sings “Reach out your palm and run with me once more/Won’t you run with me once more?”
As the title suggests, the similarly sprightly picked (a touch of McTell, perhaps) and a touch of echo to the vocals, ‘Compasses’ is, told through a story of being lost at sea and an allusion to Noah’s ark and the flood, about seeking direction and finding your own way in life because “these gales of hail we brave/Are ours to face alone/With our own compasses we hold/In our eyes/To find our own light”.
That image is picked up again with ‘Light Will Come’, shaded with brass and riding a hollow hand percussion rhythm giving both an Eastern flavour and reminding me somewhat of early Donovan in the opening verse of “I walked upon the orange sands/Sifting grains of copper through my hands/Found a lady standing there/Skin of salt and pearl and charcoal hair” with its talk of mermaid waves and “lost and lonely sailors’ graves”. Once more it’s a musing on time and impermanence (“No matter how we beg or cry/We cannot hold the colour in the sky/No matter to what god we pray/The dark will always cover up the day”), but, how faced with such (and nodding to Dylan Thomas’s raging against the dying of the light), acceptance (“I will not look for hope from anyone”) does not have to mean submission (“Then damn the dark one dawn to free/Spend the cold night here with me/Beside this black and barren sea/And love will be its own reward you’ll see”).
Jangling guitar underpins ‘The Voyage Of The Queen Marie’, the sole narrative number, unfolding the embarking of a voyage of adventure, full of rum and gold, to “bring back pieces of the sun” with a fate that winds up with just a sole survivor and a lyric that would seem to touch on conquistador history before closing in existential rapture as “swallowed by the sun/A million years fell by as one/As every father to his son/Gave his heart and returned home/To the caverns of the sun”.
It’s back to the flow of the ocean and time for the strummed ‘Tides’ and the metaphorical waves of ancestral memory that “take us to the shore/To walk the paths our fathers walked before” as we chart a course through life’s seas, returning to the overarching theme of mortality that sparked its inception, the image of “the child who stumbled at your knee” and “Straight the path you led him through the reeds”, of those who have passed on “over the dark edge of the earth” to “the whispered world” and how “Soon the day when we will follow on”.
Having alluded to Noah earlier, the penultimate number picks up the reference again for ‘After The Flood’, a cello-led strings and piano instrumental prelude to a new dawn as the track breaks out into a rousing swell of redemption, optimism and rebirth as he sings that “Light will die to bring another dawn” and “Raise you up beyond the rising tide” to the accompaniment of handclaps and choral voices and the affirmation that “As long as there is life to live/There is love that we can give to you”.
Travelling to the mountains of the remote peninsula in Wester Ross on the west coast of Scotland, the poignant ‘On Applecross Ridge’ ends the album as it began, with a memory of his father and a final letting go as to “A sinking sun, the stars roll in behind/On Applecross ridge, I cast ashes to the sea/On Applecross ridge, I set his broken body free”, closing on the epiphany and catharsis of “I do not wait, you do not come/On Applecross Ridge in the setting sun/The ghosts are gone, the ghosts are gone”. Suffused with sorrow, with joy, with love, hope, hurt and a humanist soul, Songs Of The Sea is a truly magnificent work.
Artist’s website: www.iandavidgreen.bandcamp.com/album/songs-of-the-sea