THE BLACK FEATHERS – Angel Dust & Cyanide (own label)

Angel Dust & CyanideIt’s been six years in waiting for a second Black Feathers Angel Dust & Cyanide album. Now, to get all biblical (as this music often has an American gospel vibe), that’s almost as long as Jacob had to labour to eventually marry the fair Rachel. And to continue the biblical allusion, Sian Chandler has the voice of an exquisite “coat of many colours”, and when blended in a tag-team harmony with husband Ray Hughes, who by the way, has the soft vocal passion of that “summer breeze” that has endured both “fire and rain”, melodies ignite and dance in the warm prairie wind.

There’s a certain gospel vibe to ‘Lighthouse On Fire’. The tune begins with a celestial sound that morphs from the mist into a lovely folk song with Ray’s vocals quickly haloed by Sian’s harmony. But then the rolls reverse, and, oh my, Sian’s vocals find a new colour on the folky palette. There’s a “Pops” Staples-like prayerful guitar solo, and an organ hovers over the ritual of the song.

If I may jump to the penultimate tune (and my sincere favourite!), ‘Nos Da’, (a Welsh expression for “good-night”) inhabits the sacred corner of any melodic soul. Sian’s very naked vocals are gently framed with an acoustic guitar and a violin – simple stuff that punctuates a breath and stills a moment in time. A personified patience finds a blissful vocabulary. It’s a beautiful tune.

The same is true for other songs. ‘Only The Brave’ is acoustic quiet, graced with those dual-voiced vocals, and while it’s drenched in Mariana Trench deep despair, the song somehow, through the sheer power of performance, finds a votive candle flicker of melodic hope. Then, the stunning ‘Strangers In The Dark’ sings with even more punctuated harmonic breath and folky gravity that’s comfort enough to quiet pessimistic time with a sound that echoes Kasey Chambers’ work with Shane Nicholson. And Ditto for the acoustic laced ‘Chemical Romance’ that envelops the sound of a deep emotional moment that “cuts like a razor through my core” and conjures early Richard and Linda Thompson passion.

This is music that still sings from the place where “down where the drunken roll”.

Did I mention the sublime vocal harmony of the singers? And, it’s just an idea, but lovers of that first Civil Wars album will find a lot to love here. ‘Barcelona’ certainly conjures that earnest pulse of generous souls, who just happen to have a cache of really great tunes. The same is true for ‘Silver Lining’ with its sympatico dual-voiced slow dance that (to quote Procol Harum) “skipped the light fandango” under always open and very melodic starry skies.

The weird cover of Portishead’s ‘Glory Box’ unplugs the electronics and roams a dusty crossroads with a fiery violin and an urgent electric guitar (with a bit of wah-wah) that plays a very dramatic Americana music – which is a long stone’s throw from their Gloucestershire by way of a converted chapel in the Welsh Pembrokeshire town of Clarbeston folk music bloodline.

The up-tempo ‘Hurricane’ raises the pulse rate, and with a pedal-steel guitar, dances in our troubled times, with an ample get-well-soon joyous melody.

And ‘Golden Hour’ simply rocks (with dramatic strings!) in juxtaposition against the quietly intense grain of the rest of the album.

The title track, ‘Angel Dust & Cyanide’ returns to a fragile framework with a piano-graced harmony-voiced gospel glory that elevates the drama of this music. Yeah, this is sublime stuff. The album ends with ‘Outro’ – a short solo piano soliloquy that adds a hushed hum of simplicity that punctuates a breath and stills a musical moment in time. Indeed, Angel Dust & Cyanide sings with that personified patience and finds a blissful (and very rare) folk music vocabulary. And by the way, to quote a previous Black Feathers song, “the ghosts”, once again, “have eaten very well”.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website:

‘Glory Box’ – official video: