If Wishes Were Horses
Reveal Records 058CDX
These days, musical genres are collapsing faster than an old man's arches. I wonder where stores will file the latest from Scotland's Kris Drever? World music? Celtic? Folk? None would be correct. His latest effort consists of eleven tracks, ten of which are originals. Only his cover of "Capernaum," a song popularized by The Tannahill Weavers on a 1994 titular release, is particularly "Celtic. " If you've never heard it, it's about Edinburgh, and let's just say it presents the city's past in ways unlikely to find their way into Royal Mile tourist brochures. Drever's album themes center on loss, longing, and disappointment—as suggested by the album's title and fifth track, which applies the old proverb "if wishes were horses then beggars would ride." That latter song uncoils atop a galloping guitar clip that reminds us of Drever's evolving maturation as an artist. His smooth, faintly nasal vocal is accompanied by guitar that is solidly in the jazz-infused style of Davy Graham, Bert Jansch, Martin Carthy, and other U.K. pioneers of song framing. Drever's voice and instrumentation are so impressive that they take the edge off of tough topics, like the impact of deindustrialization in "I Didn't Try Hard Enough," a tune so bright and catchy you'll probably find yourself humming it as you blissfully forget it's about a man who took four years to get his life back on track when the factory closed. The point, though, is that he did, and that's another thing that's another edge sander. Most of the songs also offer what might be called mature, cautious hope. Take "When We Roll in the Morning" (and you can't not think of Martin Carthy on this one). In the opening line Drever sings of an ended relationship as "like a death in the family," but then we learn he has fallen in love for the third time and is hoping for the best. Is this "if wishes were horses" foolishness, or the sort of perseverance that yields happiness? There is a sense on this album that one does indeed arrive somewhere good in the end. The bright guitars (Drever and Ian Carr) and vocal cadences on "Shipwrecked" feel like a more highly produced version of one of Dougie MacLean road songs, though "The Longest Day," inspired by Thomas Wolfe's axiom "you can never go home" uses wistful guitar with ringing melancholy tones, to remind that maybe the journey itself is the point.
Drever takes on other topics, though usually circuitously rather than in a preachy way. "Don't Tell Me That (Human Nature)," suggests that we sometimes must cut ties with old acquaintances when "the things that you're saying/Seem benighted to me." "Hard Year," a tune with memorable small runs, has a pop feel, but the song is basically telling another person to stop wallowing and get on with things. Drever has the wisdom to round off his recording with two don't-think-too-hard songs. The deliberately sluggish "Five Past Two," recounts one of those days in which nothing goes right and nothing gets done. My personal favorite is the last track, "Going to the North," a cheery song about home as a place where things make sense when nothing else does. How does one classify this record without getting ridiculously postmodern and just labeling it "music?" It's not remotely Celtic, its band-arrangements feel more like pop than folk, and the music lacks the exotic otherness generally applied to world music. Drever works with a full band: Carr (guitars, trumpet), Euan Burton (bass, keyboards), Louis Abbott (percussion), Yolanda Quaterly (backing vocals), but it's not really a quintet effort. Let's call it a singer-songwriter album that showcases Drever's superb guitar work. Sample some tracks on YouTube and see what you think.