Album: Donald Beaman – Fog On Mirror Glass

Royal Oakie Records are putting out superb music currently and this is no exception- Fog On The Mirror Glass is a treat. It’s a work of deft musicianship and bucolic soul that seemingly evokes something from another time, a simpler time perhaps. Each note is filled with a small-room ambience; each string plucked with dexterous precision. It’s an album that calls you home. 

This record does that wonderful thing of feeling familiar and new at the same time. The songs inhabit the same realm as early Jackson C Frank – where Janschian acoustic eloquences are given additional soul by that lilting, sometimes soaring vocal. There is something pastoral about its textures but the bass work, and Michael Nalin’s sporadic, shuffling drumming, toy with jazz textures too and there are surprising shifts and stop/starts to the rhythm that arrest and intrigue. These moments remind with absolute clarity the craft at play here too: there’s a lot of skills gathering in this small room; the greatest skill of all being their ability to hold back – to not get too showy-  this allows for greater intimacy, and ensures the song not the player is at the album’s heart. 

Now… Some people’s voices are violins; Donald Beaman’s voice is a cello: rich, elegant and capable of emotive impact through simplicity, sometimes a few notes interlocuting is all that’s needed.  The ways in which vowels are shaped are oddly reminiscent of Mayo Thompson – especially on second song Paper Screen – but sonically this is completely removed from his cubist clattering magnificence. This is smooth and sonorous though no less heartfelt for that fact. Will Oldham has been referred to as a sonic cousin but I don’t hear this much I have to say. Beaman is working within a genre where this might make sense – and yes this has an intimacy to it that say Master and Everyone has – but that voice is a different thing entirely- and tonally it feels like it is reaching for something else again, something less intellectualised perhaps. 

The title track has an almost Kingsbury Manx-evoking, steady and stately precision – one foot veering well outside of the folk pathway, the production details and carefully built additional guitars (the haunting addition of Ken Lovgren) playing with melodies that ache with nostalgic familiarity. Makeshift Room is a demonstration of repetition’s power to hypnotise – cyclical, raga-like guitar excursions that twist their way around the brain.  Jake Xerxes Fussell makes sense as brother in arms – in the elegiac, stripped-back wisdom of the songs. Again, you sense these songs are looking wistfully back to the 60s folk revival – direct, yearning, heartfelt. 

When things take on direct, finger-picking folk tropes, as on Your Dreaming Eyes, the early work of Sam Beam feels like a closer reference point; but even here when the solos start to bend and flourish and that wheezing accordion permeates, it’s something that is it’s very own- almost central European in tone. There is a romance to these songs- they feel unaffected, genuine – not trying to corrupt or fragment – but rather aim for something pure, something timeless. That’s how they feel to these ears at least. 

As I write this, the sun is once more slowly settling over the estuary and the sounds captured in that front room feel like the perfect companion to that vista. Thank you to those who brought these sounds to life. 

Written by M. A Welsh (Misophone)

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