Fails to engage as emotionally as you’d expect from a musician of this stature.
Rich Hanscomb 2012-06-18
In an era of Internet-facilitated eclecticism it’s difficult to recall just how quietly revolutionary and endearingly out of step with prevailing musical trends Richard James’ first band, Gorky's Zygotic Mynci, were.
At odds with Britpop, they didn’t care about haircuts, and had journalists using words like “psychedelic” and “whimsical” to describe their music – about as uncool as you could get back then. Gorky’s took the more interesting elements of their baby-boomer parents’ heritage-rock record collection and created the kind of music that prefigured the Green Man generation. One could argue that Richard James has earned his dues.
Three albums into a solo career, this offering is a conscious reaction to the DIY pocket symphonies of 2010’s We Went Riding. A low-key, intimate affair, Pictures in the Morning plays out like Bert Jansch’s Rosemary Lane, only not as affecting. Opening tracks All Gone and Baby Blue float by on a bed of deftly plucked acoustic guitars and hushed vocals, pleasant enough.
It’s Sun Ease Pain, the album’s audacious and all-too-early high watermark, which really showcases James’ talent. Taking in American Primitive-style guitar moves and the kind of vocals that Crosby, Stills and Nash would have traded fringed jackets for, it soon segues into an instrumental passage vividly evoking the pastoral splendour of James’ native West Wales.
The quality continues with Say It Aint No Lie, frail guitars conspiring to create syncopated, saccharine melodies that belie the lyric’s preoccupation with an ambiguous relationship. The over-arching vibe is a kind of wistful melancholy abruptly broken, albeit temporarily, by the incongruous Velvet Underground stomp of Magical Day.
Whether it’s the close-mike harmonies of Rolling Down or earnest thrum of Do You Know the Way to My Heart?, too little of what James has to offer here truly grabs the attention. While by no means a bad record, Pictures in the Morning inexplicably fails to engage as emotionally as you’d expect from a musician of this stature.
Still, in places there are shafts of hopeful light filtering though the fug of tipi-tent-festival-folk, suggesting that James will be back stronger.