A highly contemplative and reflective collection, More Notes From The Field, the second of the duo’s studio albums, is a largely unhurriedly–paced affair. It opens with the (part) title track, ‘More Notes’, on which, with a playful touch of self-deprecation, Tobias announces “This one’s for the folks back home, play it on your mobile phone/When you think you’ve heard enough say ‘I prefer their early stuff’”), a song that turns the spotlight on their touring life and its encounters (“We’ve done some miles in this old van from Exeter down to Milan/Darling your puns are all the rage you belong upon the stage/Who’s that woman over there poets drowning in her hair?/Take my ego for a stroll forget the myths of rock and roll”) and declares themselves to have been “uncool before uncool was cool”.
Friendship is a running theme, first evidenced with the circling melody of the fingerpicked ‘Perennial Friend’ which, bearing traces of James Taylor, asserts that, whenever “life is hard to do… You’ll always have a friend in me”. Featuring Lukas’s double bass, the rolling rhythm ‘Higher Than The Moon’ has been part of the live set for some while, now finally being committed to disc, again a testament to an enduring relationship (“the greatest tale will be I loved you and darling you loved me”), the track list then moving to ‘Golden Man’, which, cast with mythological imagery (“I went down to the valley to watch the river flow… I came upon a giant there part spirit and part wild/His arm was made mighty/His eyes were gentle as a child”), suggests an eco interpretation (“He said once I was a soldier and I swore to serve the king /Now I fight a different war I serve a higher thing/Scion of the truth/Friend to the innocent/A voice in the wilderness/That asks you to repent”), but also resonates with the fact that the album is dedicated to Richard Bridge, a close friend who recently passed, his death informing several of the songs. Most specific are ‘A Day Out Of Time’ and ‘To Call You Friend’, the former, based around a circling guitar motif, speaking of the day he died in terms of both loss and transformation (“The song descends and the song it flies… And up above in the night sky a star is born/And an old star dies”). Following directly on, the latter, a slow swaying duet that also features Lukas’s wife Emily Barker on backing vocals and is one of the few with percussion, is a particular highlight, calling to mind vintage Richard Thompson, a call to “take care of the ones you love/And be a brother until the end…Let it be a blessing to call you friend” even while suffering yourself, that pointedly delivers a eulogy to Bridge’s memory in “I want you to know you were never a failure/And you’ll always be a hero to me/For your heart was as big as the ocean/You were a saint for the cause of living free” but which will have deep resonance for anyone who’s lost someone close. I’d not be surprised to find this playing at funeral services.
Drawing from the same well of inspiration (“Yesterday I crossed the line/Said goodbye to a friend of mine/I’m sad to lose his company”), the shuffling, snare-brushed ‘Sargasso Sea’ with a whistling solo from Tobias is the jauntiest number, the marine phenomenon of the title, a region of deep blue colour and exceptional clarity where the currents of the waters that border it coalesce, serving as an afterlife metaphor for returning to the source and reuniting with lost souls.
The passing of the years provides the foundation for the rootsy strummed ‘Nowhere On Sea’ (Barker on harmonica) which, drawing on images of faded seaside towns (“since they opened the new power station/People don’t seem to visit much anymore”) and busted cars, speaks of unfulfilled dreams (“I could have been a famous singer you know/But that kind of life’s not for me”) and being stuck in a rut while everyone else moves on (“Maria she moved to the city/Ah you should of seen us in eighty nine/She asked me if I’d go with her/But it just didn’t feel right at the time”), while sporting the memorable line “Once it was happy hour all the time/Now it’s just from six until nine”.
It sits next to the falsetto sung, keyboards-backed, fingerclicked rhythm ‘The Nameless’, so named from the fact a friend sent Tobias a video of it recorded on a balcony in 2010 asking what it was called, and that, only ever played on that one occasion, it was never titled. It now becomes an anthem for the unknown everyday heroes (“I’ll give you shelter from the madness/From the wicked and the wild/I will carry your sadness/I will love you like a child”) encapsulated in the soulful earworm refrain “There’s a flame burning in the blackness/There’s a light shining in the dark”. Chips Moman and Dan Penn could have written this.
It ends with, first, the fingerpicked ‘For Old Times’ Sake’, written by Tobias for a his grandfather who, a sailor working in the battery room, was badly injured when the ship struck a mine, but managed to struggle to the upper decks and walk off into the sea as it sank, the song a pandemic-fuelled encouragement to persist when things look hopeless and “For the strength to carry on/When everything is at stake”, a blessing “for you my friends wherever ye roam/May the path of love and healing lead you home” and that “we will bend but we will not break”.
It ends, finally, with the ethereal keys and meditatively strummed ‘The Other World’, returning to nature and pagan mythology imagery (“Amongst the mosses and the twisted oak/There’s a place of which old women spoke/An altar fashioned by some elfin hand”), for a number bathed in hope for tomorrow that draws on the derivation of Wednesday as Odin’s Day, representing the ‘hump’ of the week or, as the lyric has it, “the borderline/Into another world, another time”.
An album that asks to be listened to with no distractions to take in the depth of emotion behind the sometimes still musical waters, this is a field of dreams and gold.
Artists’ website: www.jacobanddrinkwater.com