Review – Blue Rose Code – The Water Of Leith – by Progradar

Music never ceases to amaze me with its capacity to delight and its ability to lift you up when you are down and to perfectly fit your mood when you are happy and on top of the world. I know for a fact that my life is so much richer and rewarding because of my love of music.

There are artists, however, who stand out even more for me, musicians whose songwriting talents elevate the songs to another level, able to move you and alter your life with just one note. I have been very lucky to have had some of these very people come into my life and I am a better person for it.

Once again, I have my great friend Iain Sloan to thank for introducing me to the mercurial talents of Blue Rose Code (aka Ross Wilson). Iain contributes pedal steel to several tracks on the new Blue Rose Code album ‘The Water Of Leith’.

A nomad both geographically and musically, Ross writes from the heart eschewing any specific genre and the twelve new songs on ‘The Water Of Leith’, addressing themes of love, loss, travel, home, accepting the past and embracing the future, are painted with colours of folk, jazz, soul and pop; an eclecticism that has become a hallmark of Blue Rose Code and has seen him compared to John Martyn, Van Morrison and Tom Waits.

Underlining the sense of movement and place in Ross’s work and ‘The Water Of Leith’ is rooted in his return to his Scottish homeland. There, he reconnected with the stellar musicians who were to become an integral part of the new album’s sound: multi award-winning singer Julie Fowlis, celebrated Gaelic singer Kathleen MacInnes, BBC Folk Award Winner, Ross Ainslie, 2017’s Scottish Jazz Awards’ instrumentalist of the year Konrad Wiszniewski, leading violinist Seonaid Aitken and three of Scotland’s finest jazz musicians; John Lowrie, Colin Steele and James Lindsay, to name just some of the contributors. Grammy-winning American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman features on the opening track. Ross co-produced the album with Angus Lyon.

(Image by Mark Archibald)

Music at its most simplistic has the power to move you and the twelve tracks on ‘The Water Of Leith’, despite being simple and charming, generate such a wide range of emotions. The incredibly tender Over The Fields (For John) is a touching tribute to Ross’ friend John Wetton (of Asia fame and more) who died earlier this year. Sparse instrumentation and the incredibly emotive vocals have a bleak and yet uplifting feel to them. There’s a sadness that is lifted by fond, nostalgic memories and I challenge you to not be wiping a tear from your eye when it comes to its gentle close. Bluebell has an upbeat, soulful vibe, Ross’s vocal has warmth and compassion at its core and Konrad Wiszniewski’s sax and Iain’s pedal steel add a touch of culture to this sophisticated piece of music. Wistful memories float along with the lilting tone of the music and draw you into its sincere embrace. Toe-tapping, feelgood music is at the heart of the wonderful Ebb & Flow with its great harmonies and superb brass, just under three-minutes of music that leaves you in a much better place than before it arrived. The Gaelic tinged hues of Passing Places is haunting in its brevity and beauty. Kathleen MacInnes mesmerising vocals are accompanied perfectly by the childlike innocence of the violin of Seonaid Aitken and Angus Lyon’s accordion with the mournful tone of Wild Lyle Watt’s acoustic guitar adding the final folk-infused touches.

The music segues straight into Sandaig where the sparseness is fleshed out with Ross’ stirring vocal. A song straight from the heart, this peaceful spot was immortalised as Camusfearna in ‘Ring of Bright Water’ – the famous book by Gavin Maxwell telling of his life with his pet otters at this lonely spot. Ross imbues the song with love and affection and a kind of longing and with Kathleen adding her distinctive vocals, it’s charm and beauty hypnotise you from the first note. A touching song full of jazz imbued soul, Nashville Blue has a real feel of the roaring 20’s about it. Its passionate feel and elegance cut right through you and the vocal performance is stirring and just a little sad. The incredible playing of all the musicians comes through to give a stellar, if slightly sombre, performance. A perfect slice of modern Scottish folk, On The Hill remains A Heart is a serious piece of music that has you enveloped in tte story, imagining yourself on a windswept hill as a certain part of your life’s journey comes to a melancholy close. The vocals have a more hushed and sincere tone to them and end the song with a thoughtful atmosphere, increased by the superb violin and cello. An open letter to the world that getting basics right is where we should start, Love Is… touches you right in your heart with its poignant vocals and bluegrass inspired music with Seonaid Aitken’s wondrous violin leading the way. A tenderly wistful song with a compassionate belief at its core.

Polaris is one of those delightful songs that you just keep returning to again and again and show that Ross is a modern singer/songwriter of huge talent. The tender yet powerful vocals are key here and bring an uplifting emotion to the chorus. A compelling piece of music that you can lose yourself in and forget about the worries of everyday life. Innovative and inventive, like a cross between free from jazz and traditional folk, The Water is nine minutes of utterly captivating music, an involving soundscape on which John Lowrie’s wandering piano and Colin Steele’s original trumpet playing are joined by the adroitness of James Lindsay’s double bass to lead you on a spiritual musical journey into your own psyche and everyone’s journey will be different.  You stop and listen to every note and every nuance and each playing reveals more of this incredible track. There’s no let up to the brilliance as the haunting delta blues and jazz-tinged hues of To The Shore work their way into your mind. A darkly meaningful song that seems to glide effortlessly into the room with a knowing aura, Ross’ vocal has the requisite husky tones to leave you imagining yourself in a dimly lit jazz club in the American depression. The musicianship is staggeringly good, turn the lights down, open a glass of something strong and red and just lose yourself in the wonderfully enigmatic music. The album closes out with the wistfully plaintive Child. Another sublimely simple song that touches the heartstrings with its affection and love. The piano of John Lowrie is the perfect accompaniment to Ross’ heartwarming vocal and the sax adds its stirring tribute and, as the track comes to its uncomplicated close, I just find myself smiling and at one with myself.

In the dark and complicated world that we live in we all need something to escape to, something that makes our lives better and richer and, for me and many others, it is music that has the capacity to do that. ‘The Water Of Leith’ is a poignant, moving collection of songs that have come straight from the heart of one of the best songwriters of this or any generation. Ross Wilson and Blue Rose Code have given us a definitive piece of music that will last the test of time and we would all be happier having it in our lives.

Released 27th October 2017

Buy the CD from Navigator Records

Buy the limited edition vinyl from bandcamp

 

Blue Rose Code Announce New Album Pre-Order And Sign To Navigator Records

From Ross Wilson:

“So delighted to announce something that we’ve been working on for a while now; Blue Rose Code has signed to Navigator Records and we’ll be releasing new album, The Water Of Leith, on the 27th October 2017. We’ve got an amazing team behind us and I love what we’re going to share with you.

Thanks, first and foremost to the top man, my manager, Sean Devine, for his work in putting this together, to Angus Lyon for co-producing the record with me, and to all of the world-class musicians and engineers who’ve made me sound better across each of the twelve songs;

Progradar’s Best of The Year For 2016 – Editor’s Choice

So we have had a wonderful selection of Top 10 picks from some of my great collaborators and now it is my turn. I’m going to stray from the norm because mine is going to be a Top 20 to keep it in line with my TEP selection that I spoke with David Elliott about.

Yes, it is a bit of a cheat but it is my website so I don’t have to follow the rules. Anyway,without any further ado, here are my top albums of 2016,not in any particular order but they have all made a big impact on my life this year…

You will also notice that there are no Bad Elephant Music releases in my Top 20. The label I work with had another superb year but it would have been a bit unfair of me to include any releases from the artists on BEM.

Bad Dreams – Déjà vu

‘Déjà vu’ is an album that will stand the test of time and is a great achievement for Bad Dreams. I was impressed from the first note by the accomplished musicianship and the superb vocals, add in the exemplary songwriting and it was sure to be a winner in my book. What makes it stand out even more is the way the music becomes almost part of you and can make you stop what you are doing and just listen for the sake of it and that, my friends, is what truly great music can do to you.

Blue Mammoth – Stories Of A King

Proper seventies epic prog of massive proportions from these excellent Brazilians. The artwork alone is very striking but the music will literally knock your socks off, play it loud,VERY loud!

Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence

Thought provoking, questioning and inventive, ‘The Unreasonable Silence’ has all that I ask for in my music. A well constructed and intelligent concept brought to reality by a gifted musician with incomparable support from some incredible guests. It makes you really think about what you have heard and, above all, is a peerless, outstanding and incomparable listening experience that you will not forget any time soon.

Tony Patterson – Equations of Meaning

Well I was utterly mesmerised by ‘Northlands’, Tony’s collaboration with Brendan Eyre and this album deserves to be mentioned in the same breath. To get the utmost from the album you must listen to it from start to finish, preferably with headphones on, in  a darkened room and with your choice of relaxing alcohol. To me, ‘Equations of Meaning’ is not merely a great release, it is a state of mind that we should all aspire to when our Life in the Fast Lane gets too much for us. Superb and highly recommended.

Big Big Train – Folklore

It was always going to be hard to follow ‘The Underfall Yard’ and the ‘English Electric’ albums but the acknowledged masters of pastoral progressive rock and intelligent and incisive storytelling have returned with a fresh collection of stories and tales gleaned from our heritage and history. With their penchant for heartfelt lyrics and beautiful music it is an involving and mesmerising journey that everyone should take at least once in their life…

Damian Wilson – Built For Fighting

Funny how music fits in with your life isn’t it? I was listening to this album walking back home last night and it just struck me as to how much it was a soundtrack to how my life has turned out this year. Painful lows, beautiful highs and, ultimately, balance has been restored.Taking a break form his Prog-Metal roots, Damian delivers a solo release of sublime brilliance.

David Foster – Dreamless

The usually modest and self-effacing Dave Foster has stepped out of the shadows and onto centre stage to deliver his second solo opus and is to be applauded and admired for doing so. Such a variety of moods, styles and colours doesn’t always mix well but when it is done with consummate skill, like it is here, you are treated to a cornucopia of musical delights. While neither ground breaking or game changing, what it is is really rather good.

Gandalf’s Fist – The Clockwork Fable

Gandalf’s Fist truly believe that this is the finest musical work that they have ever created. There’s a mix of all of their influences and, were you to put all of the best bits of our discography into a huge melting pot, you’d end up with something quite close (but not as awesome) as what the guys have created! But don’t just take their word for it – head over to the pre-order store and have a listen to a whopping 10 minutes of audio previews!

Ghost Community – Cycle Of Life

‘Cycle of Life’ is a thought-provoking, beguiling and fulfilling musical journey that excites and satisfies at every turn. Ghost Community may have had to endure trials and tribulations while making this record but the experiences have enabled them to deliver something quite magical and rewarding that will stand the test of time, worthy of a place in anyone’s musical collection.

Glass Hammer – Valkyrie

With its insightful, thoughtful lyrics every bit as important as the mightily impressive music, ‘Valkrie’ is a concept album in the true sense of the word. With some delightful departures from what some would call their signature sound (The Beatles anyone?) Glass Hammer continue to evolve into one of the world’s foremost Progressive Rock bands. This iconic group of musicians lead you on a journey through the horrors of war with a totally immersive sixty-five minutes of music and you will come out the other side changed forever. I can’t recommend this album enough, one of the best albums of 2016? One of the best albums of recent years more like…

iamthemorning – Lighthouse

‘Lighthouse’ is an amazing musical journey from the first note to the last. It is bewitching and beguiling and removes you from your everyday life to a place of wonder. Darkly captivating, it is not all sweetness and light but is a musical legacy that iamthemorning can build on and the ‘Lighthouse’ can light the way. These two exceptional artists have now moved into the major leagues and it is well deserved, album of the year? why not!

Nerve Toy Trio – Accidental Bar-B-Que

A really impressive and ultimately satisfying release that really gets into your psyche and has you reaching for the repeat play button again and again. Nerve Toy Trio has given us one of the best instrumental releases of the year with ‘Accidental Bar-B-Que’ and one with which the music really does stand comparison to the excellent album art. Seems my gut feeling was right once again, a highly recommended release.

I Like Trains – A Divorce Before Marriage

A real late comer to the party, in fact I haven’t reviewed it fully yet! This sublime and haunting collection of instrumental marvelousness from these Yorkshire musicians is a soundtrack to the film of the same name. Ethereal and yet solidly powerful, I haven’t heard anything like it all year and it demanded to be in this selection of top releases.

Patchwork Cacophony – Five Of Cups

There is intelligence and a wry humour than runs throughout this remarkable album. Ben Bell has an immense talent and really knows how to put it to good use. Intelligently crafted songs that make you want to listen to them show him to be a great songwriter and what he delivers proves what a notable musician he is as well. In the world of progressive rock a new star is set to rise.

Blue Rose Code – …And Lo! The Bird Is On The Wing

Blue Rose Code is Edinburgh-born songwriter Ross Wilson. At the edge of contemporary alt-folk, Wilson’s music evokes a meeting of Van Morrison and a young John Martyn, both shipwrecked with a bunch of Motown records. A deep emotive well of stunning music that affects you at a core level, another late discovery of 2016 for me but a band I will be keeping my eye on now!

Of the new record, Wilson says, “It’s an album for music fans and musicians. A challenging record, I think, and it’s  abundantly clear that the process has been undertaken away from the cynicism of any record company.”

Ray Wilson – Makes Me Think Of Home

Ray Wilson has taken us on a deeply personal musical journey full of hope, despair, pain and, ultimately, salvation and I was hooked on every word, every note. This is music at its very best, written from the heart and full of the passion and soul of the artist. This is an album that I will return to again and again, no matter how much new music crosses my path and is surely a collection of songs that can, and will, stand the test of time.

Thence – We Are Left With A Song

What Thence have delivered with ‘We Are Left With A Song’ is no mere album, it is a breathtaking, creative powerhouse of sonic delight that grows to fill any space that it occupies to take on a life of its own. It is a life that you will want to share until your dying breath, above mere superlatives, it is an utter triumph.

Tilt – Hinterland

What TILT have delivered is a superb album by a cast of very accomplished musicians. Brilliant vocals, burning guitar solos, a thunderous rhythm section and songwriting of the highest quality combine to deliver one kick ass release that I keep returning to again and again. A fine combination of excellent rock music with all that’s best about progressive rock, these guys show how it really should be done!

Marc Atkinson – Home Grown

To me, this is what makes writing about music worth every single minute I take. I have been involved in this long musical journey in some small way from start to finish and when you hear the finished article, it is almost like welcoming a newborn into the world. Marc Atkinson will have agonised about every single word and note on this album and to my ears it has been worth every single second he has taken. This is music that takes over your mind and soul and which you can relate to on a very personal level. Fifteen songs that are extremely personal to this gracious man and we should be glad that he has released them for us to enjoy. A great album and one that I have no doubt is the complete pinnacle of Marc’s solo career to date, I am extremely proud to be able call him a friend.

Drifting Sun – Safe Asylum

Drifting Sun have delivered quite a work of art, one that touches on the past for influences but, also, has its own, confident vision of the future. Consume it in one listen to get the full effect of this great album, it is one that will live in the memory for a long time.

So, there you have it. 2016 was another brilliant year for music and I hope our End Of Year choices might make you go out and buy the music to support the artists involved. Please join me and my fellow authors at Progradar in 2017 for what I hope will be another stellar year for lovers of music.