Above The Trees
Hometapes (HT017)Grade: *****
Isn't that ... no, it couldn't be. And yet, it sure as hell sounds a lot like him.
Matter of fact, it's downright eerie how similar the wounded tonality of Paul Duncan's voice is to that of the late English folk hero Nick Drake on "This Fire."
Slight quiver and all, Duncan's quiet, gentle expression spreads gray melancholy over the string-laden, pastoral folk landscape of "This Fire," off Duncan's lush, mesmerizing folk-pop meditation Above The Trees.
And then, one after another, drifting away like smoke rings, each one not quite the same as those that came before, finger-picked acoustic figures materialize from his guitar ... disembodied, but peaceful. Listening in, Drake's own family would almost faint if they heard Above The Trees.
The temperature of Above The Trees is slightly warmer than Pink Moon, what with uptempo pacing and ever-circling, country twang of "Country Witch," and the pedal-steel swoon of "The Lake Pt. 2" and "The Lake Pt. 1."
Drake does come to life in the sweeping string arrangements of the latter, however, but then, so does alt-country angel Gram Parsons in those moments when Duncan seems intent on wandering desert-like soundscapes.
And the lithe, ephemeral melodies of Above The Trees' piano-based title track and the starry-eyed "The Pendulum" are ensconced in the misty English folk of Britain's most depressed singer/songwriter, making each track a dream-like reverie.
Utilizing an instrumental palette that incorporates guitar, soft drums, banjo, glockenspiel, horns, piano and huge swaths of strings to create overwhelmingly beautiful, heartsick sonic portraits, Duncan is just as generous with language on Above The Trees.
Evocative lyrics, filled with natural imagery and allusions to the sea, such as this line, "Your holler cracks my ribs/like tanker boats through ice/your iris roped around/the murky water in your eyes," are poetic and dense with meaning. Duncan writes about wanderlust, loss and love in an artful manner lost to these turbulent times.
It doesn't matter what medium Duncan is working in, whether it's the written word or musical expression, he's an artist in every sense of the word.