Album review: David Ian Roberts – From the Harbour

Album artwork

Words by Alexandra Dominica

Humility, sincerity and introspective. Just three of many words that can be used to describe David Ian Roberts’ captivating new album From The Harbour, another mesmerising and welcomed contribution to the British folk scene. The third of his releases under UK Independent label Cambrian Records following the widely praised Travelling Bright and the 2014 debut St Clears, we witness an artisan honing his craft and transmuting his experience of sublime solitude for all to enjoy. 

Being careful not to characterise or brand the album as a “lockdown record”, it is certainly a record that translates the beauteous culmination of being in a kind of wilderness, where one navigates inward and external solitude within the creative process. It is no surprise then that with recording studios closed these past months, this was a home recording that took place in the space of 2-3 months, while each instrument was picked up and played and perfected by David himself. Everything heard on this album, i.e. acoustic, electric, 12 string, piano, cello, percussion and bass is the result of his own self-evidently meticulous mind at work.

There’s something about David’s vocals that are almost palliative, in that space of convalescence, healing. Delicate harmonies and sinuous arrangements accentuate the hypnotic effect, turning the listeners experience into a winding serpentine flow of consciousness as opposed to the ‘wild carpet ride’ provided by previous releases. Influence wise, you’ll hear echoes of John Martyn, Elliott Smith, Nick Drake, Buckley and that magnificent otherworldliness provided in the pastoral strand of British folk music. Sophisticated in his guitar style, the intricate fingerpicking recalls the style and talents of Roy Harper, David Gilmour and Robbie Basho. The production alone and instrumental arrangement of the record stands as proof of Roberts’ prowess and knack for experimentation – he himself becomes one of the instruments as the timbre of his voice morphoses into something truly captivating.

David Ian Roberts

The album begins with ‘Slow Burn’ which directly addresses the listener: “I’m gonna get you out of here…wiccan magic sound.” You feel like Alice falling down a rabbit hole into a time capsule from 1972 – from here you’re free-falling between cosmic and natural realms. Though hypnotised, one must pay close attention if you are to completely take in everything Roberts’ world has to offer. The following track ‘Walker’ provides a faster contrast of quickened pace, sounding like a festival of Saturnalia. It is certain that From the Harbour requires a level of engagement that is often missed in the contemporary music of today.

The atmosphere soon calms with the somnambulistic, soothing guitar of ‘Dream A Fallen Angel’ and then lifts again into the gorgeous, transportive instrumentals of ‘Distant Planets’. The track ‘Levitate’ is a descent from the cosmic back down to earth, standing out as the most hypnagogic and strongest track: “Oh soul, I never knew why” –  a soothing chorus that feels like a warm embrace from the golden hour of the evening sun. 

In closing track ‘Took My Time’ David expresses his feelings of life on temporary pause, in it a certain element of serene liminality: “It seemed to sum up some of the themes of the album and encapsulates the feeling of being at home, looking out on the world, and looking forward to getting back out there.” This theme continues in the album artwork, a warm landscape of abstract brushstrokes Roberts painted himself at home.

This a work born of soul searching, self examination and finding the true artist within. ‘From the Harbour’ is one of those many gems in music that manages to capture that magic one eventually finds in sanctuary made manifest. Roberts’ music can only be described as soul food, providing a place of solace and reprieve for the weary traveller. The same feeling you have when you return to a familiar place of rest before embarking on another journey. Not to be missed.

From the Harbour was released on 7th August 2020 on Cambrian Records

Back David Ian Robert’s Kickstarter campaign to get From the Harbour onto vinyl here

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