Kris Drever’s Where The World Is Thin is a musical glance at the beautiful horizon of very current Scottish folk music.
A necessary metaphor: Although Kris (and dad Ivan of solo and Wolfstone fame!) hail from Orkney, the songs on this album conjure my Midwestern American traveller’s memory as our ferry drew close to the Isle of Skye. A myriad of jellyfish floated up to the surface to show the deep melodies that swim in the Scottish water’s depth. I suppose it’s a common occurrence to some, but to these tourist eyes and ears, those bobbing sea jellies puffed an ageless Scottish heartbeat of a melody.
And, by the way, Kris’s work includes this solo stuff as well as his collaborations with Eamonn Coyne and his trio work with the very adventurous Lau.
That said, the title track, ‘Where The World Is Thin’, casts its bones into those deep melodic and very personal waters. It’s odd, because the tune floats up toward its musical surface with so many puffed acoustic layers of perfection, and for all its purity, it catches a pretty great headwind: Kris’s guitar bobs and weaves; there’s a slight piano and percussion gracing the edges of the song. And with backing vocals soothing the tough current, and the tune sings a complex, yet catchy ephemeral comfort.
A very linear and personal insight flow through the next two songs. ‘More Than You Know’ is a very positive message for all who embrace new horizons, Kris sings of when he “first left the islands”. The tune moves from personal scrapbook thoughts (with sympathetic violin) to sincere encouragement to others that says, “Where ever you go the truth will follow”. It’s a very generous song. Then, ‘I’ll Always Leave The Light On’, again, simply, with even more sympathetic violin) bleeds with warm passion, spins into a very Scottish folk instrumental bit and one more final footprint of the wonderous chorus that sings, “Haters need what lovers know”. It’s a nice tune with (almost!) infinite dimensions.
My friend, Kilda Defnut, says of this album, “These songs are just like cooking a really nice multi-course meal for a good friend”.
I just see even more beautiful jellyfish (sort of) levitating in the very Scottish waters on the shoreline of the Isle of Skye.
‘Sanday’ is wistful and flows like an impressionistic and very dreamlike paintbrush stroke about his youth on the Orkney Islands. And it captures the beauty of memory like (the great) Roy Harper’s song, ‘Davey’ from his Flat Baroque And Berserk album. In fact, Where The World Is Thin often conjures the magic of Roy Harper. And as the poet William Wordsworth wrote, “While with an eye made quiet by the power/Of harmony, and the deep power joy, /We see into the life of things”. And that’s what this album somehow, in a very folky way, manages to do.
Then things change. ‘Scapa Flow 1919’ is an historical ballad recounting the scuttling of the German fleet (under the command of Ludwig von Reuter!) to prevent England from confiscating the ships. But the big-time cinematic song serves as a metaphor for the futility of World War I, with lines like “No one knows what the dying was all for” and “One day I robbed an officer and sold his iron cross for soap”. That’s a nice line. It’s a brilliant historical thought!
Odd: ‘Hunker Down That Old Blitz Spirit’ is up-tempo, and perhaps, a very current reflection about the shared plight in the modern coronavirus world – with the lyric, “I hold my breath when I see someone coming”. Yeah, it is a very Thin World.
But the traditional Robert Burns’ ‘Westlin’ Winds’ follows with the same St. Giles Cathedral votive candle prayer as (the great) Dick Gaughan’s Handful Of Earth version.
Then things really change. ‘Hollow Trees’ is an acoustic pulsed and densely melodic song that cuts to the quick with the reminder there will be “a last time” and “They cover you with dirt”. Of course, fantasy (a “hollow tree” life) is much more pleasant, but as T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’ reveals, this is an existence of “Shape without form, shade without colour”. The tune is clever folk-pop summation of a heavy literary idea. But, thankfully, there’s a jaunty juxtaposed instrumental break that leavens the lyrical load with a bit of levity.
Then, in the end, ‘Strike The Colours’ deflates any hubris and simply lowers the flag—and sings with confessed humanity – a confession that pulls electricity from its plug but pops a parachute of folk music purity and lands this record with a gentle and very generous thought.
So, cook a nice meal for a friend, and then watch those friendly jellyfish puff and dance with a warm welcome. This album embraces the aged introspection, a deep passion, and a heart with Midlothian soul from Scottish folks who, long ago, pledged to sing an always melodic and very truthful song.
Artist’s website: https://www.krisdrever.com/
‘Where The World Is Thin’ – lyric video: