Originally from York and now based in London, Ned Roberts’ big break came soon after he started writing and was discovered by producer Luther Russell, who invited him to L.A. to record his debut. With Russell behind the desk and also playing keys, percussion, guitars, bass and banjo, the partnership continues on Dream Sweetheart, his third release, a collection of self-penned numbers that, featuring Sarabeth Tucek on harmonies, play out in a relaxed, folksy style at times evocative of late 60s Laurel Canyon, at others infused with traditional British colours.
Cello and violin preceding the steady drumbeat and Roberts’ falsetto soar, he opens with ‘Falling Away’, on a song capturing the emotional limbo between impending dusk and hovering dawn harmonica and banjo, the laid back mood sustained with the lazy harmonica on the gently waltzing, upright bass-toned ‘Miles Between’ with its late night cicadas and lyrics about refuge and regret and love left behind.
Roberts on banjo, the pace picks up for the scuffed shuffling ‘Wrong Side Of You’, another end of relationship number about taking the unknown road ahead but your mind still having thoughts of the path behind. Despite the title evoking traditional folk thoughts, ‘Cradle To The Crow’, again in falsetto voice musing on regret and reflections (“my mind’s a fool when I long for you”), nods to a slow strummed James Taylor languor, turning to fingerpicking style, Russell on banjo, with ‘Stay A Little Longer’ and its train and rain soundtrack continuing the album’s thematic thread with further images of light and dark, and the transitions from night to day.
“I don’t need this anymore/But I miss you”, he sings on ‘The Root’, a muted guitar intro giving way to slow drum beat and a soft soul influence before the past and loss again occupies his reflections on the rhythmically puttering ‘The Songbird’ (“the stage was set to make fools of lovers”). Continuing down this path, the fuller, organ-backed arrangement of ‘The Arbour’ tells how “here once all was read it’s more unknowable now” and how “those long black clouds are just getting longer”, and that while time heals it “just hurts in the way that it numbs”.
Perhaps the folksiest track is ‘‘Cross The Boughs’, a simple acoustic strummed leaving lament on which he poetically advises “do not think on the passing days/The solitude of a mind out of time” in a manner that, as winter takes hold, could as easily be about mortality or Alzheimer’s as the end of a relationship.
Featuring hollow copper pan loops, another Taylor-tinged track, the undulatingly metronomic, reflective ‘Slower Than The Sea’ serves as the closing number, but here, in what largely comes across as a break-up album, the evening stretching out is suffused with hope as he tenderly sings “we’re lifting, spinning in the breeze/I’ll catch you if you catch me”.
Dream Sweetheart is, perhaps, a little singularly paced with a firmly focused field of lyrical vision, but its soothing vocal and musical dreamscapes well repay closing your eyes and letting them carry you away.
Artist’s website: www.nedroberts.co.uk
‘Wrong Side Of You’ – the first single (official video):