Sam Lee – The Fade in Time

Album Review | Nest Collective Records | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5

There’s something immediately entrancing about Sam Lee’s second album release, the follow-up to his Mercury-nominated debut Ground of its Own. From the opening flourish of percussion, emulating the beating of hooves together with the eerie bugle frills that set both the pace and atmosphere of the opening song, “Jonny O’the Brine”, the album is loaded with atmosphere throughout.  Whereas Planxty successfully told the story in “Johnny of Brady’s Lea”, a derivative of the traditional “Johnny of Braidesley”, at least 35 years ago, Sam Lee’s take on the story is imbued with a sudden jolt of immediacy, which tends to give the listener the feeling that they’re on an early morning hunt, whether they like that sort of thing or not.  The juxtaposition of some highly inventive musical arrangements and Lee’s distinctive vocal embellishments, which for all intents and purposes serves as an instrument in its own right, keeps the listener engaged throughout.  For the most part that relationship specifically serves to tell the story of each song, with some utterly inspiring samples, such as the impressive Eastern European cantor singing at the beginning, middle and end of “Bonny Bunch of Roses”, together with some archive spoken interludes courtesy of Hamish Henderson and Charlotte Higgins as a prelude to “Lord Gregory”, one of the highlights on the album.  Only occasionally does Lee’s voice wander into indulgence, such as on “Phoenix Island”.  How many different ways can one sing the words Phoenix Island before we want it to stop?  Having said that, The Fade in Time on the whole dispels the myth of the second album syndrome and actually improves on its predecessor.  With Arthur Jeffes and Jamie Orchard-Lisle producing, the album comes with the same mesmerising effect successfully explored in the minimalist aesthetic of Penguin Cafe.