Album Review | Navigator | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 4/5
After four studio albums and two concert sets of perfection, where Ross Wilson’s burred soulful vocals glide skip and slide over sublime music, offering a personal vision of a world that is emotionally charged and exploding with physical and metaphysical beauty. It is frankly a mystery why Blue Rose Code are not huge, selling by the lorry load, carried ever higher on critical and public acclaim. You get the feeling that there is great musicianship and a powerful instrument in Ross Wilsons playing and vocal. He also has impeccable taste when it comes to musicians and collaborators, but everything is channelled into the song or the moment. There are endless references to Jazz and the virtuosic folk music of John Martyn or acoustic period Tim Buckley, but at no point does it get showy or widdly, everything is filtered through a pop or soul pragmatism to make charged, perfectly balanced musical moments. “Over the Fields”, the duet between Ross Wilson and Beth Nielsen Chapman is a classic example of everything that Blue Rose Code do so well. Touches of Celtic mysticism come from the rich lyrics and the Irish whistles at the end of the track. Wilson’s soulful vocals on tracks like “Bluebell” are effortless and perfectly phrased, a rich instrument that like the best of John Martyn, Mike Scott and Van Morrison dances the musical hinterlands of folk, jazz, pop and rock. Thoughtful philosophical lyrics sparkle and dance over ‘smile on your face’ feel good music that appeals to the head, the heart and the feet. Tracks like “Ebb and Flow” are upbeat music with pulse, stabs of Memphis brass, gospel choruses make for air thumping party dance music. Blue Rose Code artfully balance the stomp with gossamer delicacy on “Passing Places” and “Sandaig”, where guitar and an aching violin alongside sublime Kathleen MacInnes Gaelic vocals build moments of perfection. Sandaig bay was immortalised as Camusfearna in “Ring of Bright Water” by Gavin Maxwell’s classic book telling of his life with otters at this lonely spot like Van Morrison’s finest moments Ross’ reflective lyrics mix anecdotal detail with pure beauty and a sense of wonder at every moment. This is soulful music that enriches and cleanses the soul. “Nashville Blue” from the louche rhythm, to the double bass and Colin Steele’s Miles Davis trumpet is pure staring into the empty glass jazz torch music. Ross Wilson’s lyrics and delivery are heartfelt and sublime a window into real emotion. “On the Hill Remains a Heart” is another album highlight with a finger pick guitar part that would make John Martyn smile and that double track vocal that Blue Rose Code do so well. The track builds with romantic strings and a Celtic ‘wig out’ that sounds like the up tempo bit from Tubular Bells till Wilson reigns it in and ends with pipes and a fine vocal. “Polaris”, named for the star of steadfastness, itself a metaphor for guiding principles, is a perfect example of the magic of Blue Code Rose. Strings, warm soulful vocals, life affirming lyrics and jazzy brass blend together to make something that is beguiling and simply perfect. Topped only by a wonderfully eccentric spoken word piece, a reading of Glasgow poet Edwin Morgan’s “Strawberries” from 1968 that brings to mind a kind of Celtic Kate Bush or Incredible String Brand in its ability to find a kooky honest beauty. “The Water” is one of those tracks you can blissfully lose yourself in, stage diving into or wild swimming through its beauty. Like a Piano led “Glistening Glyndebourne” the Trumpet, Double Bass and rolling piano conjures endless images. As well as being a passage of pure beauty, “The Water” is also the set up for “To the Shore”, so we feel the emotional payoff of the first line as it talks of return. Wilson’s delivers another charged performance as he draws strength from where he is now and who is now. The metaphors and lyrical imagery is rich and powerful. Strings swirl and Brass builds with all the drama of a film score, along some frankly psychedelic glissando guitar and what sounds like an infant heartbeat. After the emotional rollercoaster of the previous track “Child” is a china delicate vocal piano and strings lullaby. One of the last things you hear is an Alto Saxophone that manages to sound at different moments like a bagpipe chanter and a Saxophone is typical of such a rich and layered album as it blends together musics to make something at times beautiful and unique. For fans this another indication of the powerful and personal voice that is Blue Rose Code, for the uninitiated this is a perfect moment to dive into the Waters of Leith.