by James Conway
Naming an album after the place it was recorded is an intriguing concept, suggesting that the character and atmosphere of a bands’ surroundings are as pivotal to creation as their pre-conceived notions and ideas they had brought with them to the proverbial musical table. Either that or laziness. However, upon listening to “The Rookery”, the new album by ex-Seahorses frontman Chris Helme, one gets the urge to hop on a train to the Yorkshire Dales to experience the magic in the air found in this country hideout firsthand.
The jangly rural folk of intro track ‘Pickled Ginger’ meanders along like one of Led Zeppelin’s more easy going numbers and sets the scene for a panoramic vista of melodic, guitar-driven indie-folk and a voice that is adept at conveying heartfelt vulnerability. Helme quavers all over the gorgeous ‘Long Way Round with the help of some well-layered backing vocals and recalls Damien Rice for the morose banjo strums and creaking violin of ‘Darkest Days.’ The lyrics demonstrate a sadness tinged with regret as lines such as “Following you leads me astray, show me the truth in your darkest days” suggesting that Helme has many questions he wants answered and demons that ought to be laid to rest.
The mournful ‘Plane’ keeps things at a stately pace with its blossoming string sections conjuring images of a rainy, windswept moor before the whistling keyboards and churning riff of ‘The Spindle and the Cauldron’ attempts to cross Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds with iconic Hammer Horror film ‘Blood on Satan’s Claw’ as allusions to country witchcraft imbue the song with an unexpected menace. The spirit of Jeff Buckley looms large over the shifting textures of ‘Blindeye’ while Helme’s voice remains a sombre constant throughout.
‘Pleased’ is piped in from a different place entirely, as its Delta-Blues sway demonstrates an appreciation for another meeting place of sorrowful thoughts and tones. However the mood changes again for the playful Brit-rock of Daddy’s Farm with Helme getting the opportunity to rock out and purge his emotions with the aid of good healthy distortion. Having said that, the shimmering ‘Summer Girl’ conveys a sense of optimism with its delicately woven acoustics suggesting that the lady in question is worthy of remembering. ‘Set in Stone’ is rescued from monotony by its resonant synths before ‘Good to be in Love’ ends things on a thoughtful note with its wistful melancholy.
Mature, introspective and imaginative, this is one solo album that will fall under the banner of easy-listening despite not being that easy to listen to, as Chris Helme has no qualms about sharing his sorrow. Which on this evidence is no bad thing at all.