Shannon Lay - Living Water

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2017-09-22

This is an absolutely stunning album that will brighten the day of those among us who are rabid fans of the acid folk records of Vashti Bunyan, Bridget St John, Claire Hamill, early John Martyn, the great Harvest label band Forest, and their reborn spin off, The Story. For that chosen few, this should be an easy sell.

You know, the grass is always greener, and I’m an Anglophile stuck in the Midwest who dreamt of exploring England’s green and pleasant land, venturing into darkest Pembrokeshire, Warwickshire, or Whateverwickshire, clasping a copy of Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge, and stumbling upon a Rapunzel haired maiden bedecked in a flowing gown who was sweetly serenading sundry woodland creatures and had, as her constant companions, two or three Irish wolfhounds. Ah, the dreams of youth.

I was, of course, surprised to find Shannon Lay is based in Los Angeles and part of a post-punk psych grungy rock band called The Feels, whose sound is quite frankly (to quote the Proclaimers) “500 miles” away from this folk album. While there isn’t a shire to found anywhere in this album, the music is dead center ringer shot in its attempt to recreate that wonderful 1972 British folk sound that was probably on John Peel’s Dandelion label, and quietly sang the praises of all things that are magical, ancient, and so very British.

To quote the great Peter Green of early Fleetwood Mac fame, “Oh Well.”

“Home” starts the record with exactly the stuff of my Midwestern dreams: an acoustic guitar with audible fingers sliding intimately over the frets, a tremulous vocal, and a violin (played by Feels band mate Leana Geronimo) that darts with a puckish pagan glance across the landscape of this music. Yeah, I love this stuff a lot. The title track, “Living Water” is even better. It’s so quiet and languid in its hymn-like beauty. Did I mention that Shannon Lay has an absolutely wonderful voice? There are other nice songs: “Orange Tree,” “Caterpillar,” “The Search for Gold” all recall the simple mystery of Nick Drake. And “Always Room” and “Come Together” are both up-tempo tunes with a guitar sound not too distant from Ralph McTell’s playing.

So how can this music appeal to those who are not rabid fans of acid folk, those people whom we rabid fans of acid folk refer to as the unwashed masses? That’s a tough one. I remember the difficultly in attempting to explain to one of my students that the band Spinal Tap wasn’t a real band, and although their songs “Big Bottom” and “Sex Farm” (in his words) “really rocked” that, just perhaps, they shouldn’t be held in the same esteem as, say, “Stairway to Heaven” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

I don’t think he understood my dark sarcasm in the classroom, or for that matter, the intended satire of the mockumentary.

There are many songs on this record, although the whole thing clocks in under thirty-five minutes. But there is simply no denying the British folk circa 1972 flashback feel of this music. “The Moon’s Detriment” (with a Danny Thompson-like bass and more of that Leana violin) and “Recording 15” both have the melodic beauty of a John Martyn tune from his first few records. “Asa” could be an undiscovered gem from a Vashti Bunyan session before she disappeared in a horse-driven cart on her way to the Isle of Skye. “Coast” may be my favorite song because it oscillates between quiet introspection and a fairly spritely guitar that beams in from planet Psychedelica. The two instrumentals, “Dog Fiddle” (with canine Tommy on vocals!), and the ending tune “Sia” serve to punctuate the homespun nature of this recording.

The only thing missing is the actual sound of birds singing in the trees which (if so desired) can be heard on an equally great record by the band Heron as they recorded their album in 1970 outside in a field behind a barn in, of course, the deepest darkest Berkshire. Such were the times.

Speaking of the before-mentioned Nick Drake, my friend, Kilda Defut, has a brother Kevin (nicknamed “Kinky” for his favorite band) who looks nothing like him. However, Kinky is the mirror image of Peter Frampton, both when he had long curly hair as on the cover of Frampton Comes Alive! and without hair as he doesn’t appear on the Supermarine Spitfire graced cover of his really good Thank You Mr Churchill album. Brother Kinky has two fifteen minutes of rock ‘n’ roll fame to his credit. The first was the day the actual Peter Frampton played in my native Green Bay in the late 70’s; Kinky and I were lunching at the famous Kroll’s Restaurant, with no intention of attending the concert, or for that matter, ever listening to “Show Me the Way” again. But several young women spied the Frampton mirror image (aka Kinky Defnut) and with almost Beatles Shea Stadium hysteria begged for an autograph. Kinky dutifully acquiesced to their demand. However, it is fair to say there is at least one Peter Frampton autograph out there that will not pass the Pawn Stars authenticity test.

But Kinky also possessed (much later in life) the dated receipt for Nick Drake’s Pink Moon album that proved he bought the record before Nick’s death. Of course, nobody much cared about this sublime folk music until years later when the Volkswagen ad featured a bit of the title track. Well, for the next year no record store employee’s day was complete without hearing, “Do you have that Pink Volkswagen song about the moon?” Kinky, with his receipt proving he was indeed a thoughtful, sensitive, intelligent, and all around really decent dateable guy who was an actual Nick Drake fan before the sadly belated (but much deserved) sainthood, now had many much older women begging for his autograph. This time, he signed his own name. Incidentally, I’m still eagerly waiting to lose my own fifteen minutes of fame virginity.

 Indeed, Nick Drake was right: “Fame is like a fruit tree.”  And to quote Ray Davies, “It’s a mixed up muddled up, shook up world.” It’s really a crazy place in which to create timeless and poignant music. Hopefully, this new music by Shannon Lay will find its way to the many listeners who, once given the exposure (with or without a car commercial), will empty the shelves of the record stores who are willing to stock the esoteric stuff.  And (once again) speaking of esoteric, the record label that bears the name releases so many wonderful albums of long ago whose sales figures didn’t exactly match those of Rumours or Dark Side of the Moon. My Creative Writing teacher always stressed, “Be specific!” So, yeah, Caroline Pegg’s post Mr. Fox solo record from 1973 is a prime example. I love this reissue with digital sound and a cool booklet, but that doesn’t pay the gas and light bill dated from way back then.

So heads up. This is a really nice piece of music that is here and it is now. It’s a beautiful folk record that may well appeal to young ears that shun the corporate stamp and long to hear a bit of quiet humanity in the music of their own generation.

 

Overall Rating (2)

5 out of 5 stars