I shall be brutally honest: I had forgotten that White Willow was still running as a functioning band. Maybe The Hedvig Mollestad project has made me think that way? The lack of any profile in the last few years or output had put them well in the back of my musical memory. I was at HRH V Prog talking to old friends about the forthcoming album when it occurred to me how important profile is in the Biz we call ‘show.’ Therefore, essentially, I have come to this as if it’s a fresh band out of the box.
Sporting a cover courtesy of Roger Dean himself, this is a product that has set its sights on being a truly prog album in the classical sense but it is also a real challenge for the band themselves to achieve the aspiration worthy of such a historically artistic cover. Have they achieved it? We shall see by the end of the review.
White Willow are Venke Knutson (vocals), Jacob Holm-Lupo (guitars, synthesizers, keyboards, backing vocals), Mattias Olsson )drums, percussion, e-bow, sounds & noises), Lars Fredrik Frøislie (synthesizers, keyboards), Ketil Vestrum Einarsen (wind controller, flute) and Ellen Andrea Wang (bass guitar), Hedvig Mollestad (guitar), David Krakauer (clarinet), Ole Øvstedal (guitar) and Kjersti Løken (trumpet).
(Band photos by Dagfinn Hobæk)
By producing a seven track album (including the two bonus tracks) the band have not fallen into the trap of needing to fill a CD’s worth of material for the sake of it but, instead, have focused on the quality of the product rather than blitzing it with a ton of excessive material that could swamp the real calibre of the music.
Future Hopes, the eponymous title track, opens with booming bass pedals and a lilting melody with a melancholic vocal. The guitar and keyboards come in and the whole thing has an analog feel to it, but decidedly not old fashioned. The music has a crisp clean sound, nothing muddy or thick here. Complex harmonies and rhythms wind through the track, twisting between the possibly positive or negative world that we have to look forward to right now. It’s a fine opener and sets the bar high for the rest of the album
Silver and Gold is very folk-like in style with an acoustic introduction and almost a duet between guitar and voice that has a poetry all of its own. There’s also a very Moogy keyboard subtly coming into the background followed by a doom laden drum instrumental middle 8 then back to the guitar and voice. This has hidden depths and would make an outstanding live track for atmosphere and melancholy.
In Dim Days jumps straight up a gear and has a sonic landscape that is the total opposite of the previous track. You get distorted guitar and phasing through and through, it has a real symphonic feel to it reminiscent of Floyd in the Division Bell period. There is an open fullness to the track, if that makes sense at all? It has an epicness to it that allows a really effective exploration of the theme musically and lyrically without having to fill every second up with a million notes that swamp the listener. It’s definitely a high point of the album and this alone makes it a worthwhile purchase.
Venke Knutson is the new vocalist on this album and a stable back line from Opium Cartel . She provides a great vehicle for the lyrics and slots well into the line up. Now these guys have evolved over the last 21 years from a very folk base line to a band that has mature song writing and looks at adult themes. White Willow have placed their colours very firmly in the Traditional Prog territory but have retained a definitive identity of their own. I often do a sounds-a-like for reference in my reviews but not for the sake of “do they do a good … insert band name…” but mainly so you can have a point of reference as to whether this is going to be my cup of tea or not.
White Willow have a very firm identity of their own but sit very firmly in the atmospheric open grouping of bands that allow the music to breath and express itself. If Pink Floyd merged with Yes and Steve Wilson then recruited a female vocalist and then listened to Steeleye Span for a month before going into the studio, you may be close but it sounds nothing like any of the component parts.
There is an interesting version of Animal Magnetism By The Scorpions as one of the bonus tracks that shows a great sense of musical history and humour. Fans of the band won’t be disappointed by this album and it will also attract new listeners. It does not bring down the walls of innovation but it does a sterling job of improving on White Willow’s reputation.
Gig with this album guys and gals. Your classmates Anekdoten and Anglagard seem to have been far more in the fore-front recently. This album has amended that and set a line your turn to deliver!
Released 31st March 2017