Susan James - Sea Glass - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Susan James - Sea Glass

by Bill Golembeski Rating:9 Release Date:2019-06-16
Susan James - Sea Glass
Susan James - Sea Glass

This is a wondrous folk-Baroque record that was originally released in 2015, and now has received an aquamarine limited vinyl re-issue, with an extra track, “The Invisible Mrs Lee.”

High Llama’s guy Sean O’ Hagan produces and gives his signature clever pop twist to the tunes.

To quote (the great) Gordon Lightfoot, “There was a time in this fair land when the railroad did not run.” Well, there was also a time in this fair land when folk music abandoned traditional songs and became the stuff of singer-songwriters who, for the most part, examined their own souls and then wrote songs about that inner journey to some sort of painful (but always quite melodic) wisdom.  And then, against all odds, some of those singer-songwriters wrote tunes that made big money in, of all places, the pop charts! The before-mentioned Gordon Lightfoot was #1 in the world!  Don Mclean stretched radio airplay attention to eight minutes! Carly Simon had us all guessing as to who, exactly, was “so vain.” And, of course, James Taylor painted tormented beauty with “Fire and Rain.”

It was a nice time.

And this Sea Glass record evokes those nice times. Susan James, with her lovely voice and acoustic guitar, holds center stage, while various percussions, flutes, strings, and keyboards magically grace these songs.  

“Poseidon’s Daughter” is pure California folk. Yeah, there is a lot of trash in the ocean. But the song has mermaid beauty, which only heightens the polluted plastic pathos as vocals swim in an acoustic pool that pleads for a clean-up. The tune avoids didacticism and even provides a bit of mythological drama. And yes, sadly, even The Beach Boys sang, “Don’t Go Near the Water.”

“Awful Lot” brings in sweeping strings and a “must have meant a lot to you” chorus that plays joyfully in the synapses of the brain for the warmth of days.

And the arrangements continue to provide colorful frameworks for the songs. “Hey Julianne” is cut from The Beatles’ “Penny Lane” cloth. The song blends into Baroque pop. Again, the chorus is irresistible.  Then sad strings drip dramatically against the ironic up-tempo “Calico Valley,” which sings of “nuclear dust” and the reality that “nothing would ever be the same.” And “Ay Manzanita” is a song of deep beauty, with strings that cut into the pulse of the human heart.

Two obscure reference points: Imagine the great Judee Sill singing with the equally wonderful band, Appaloosa.

Now, it’s just a thought, but there is an estuary in Canada’s Saint Laurence River where the fresh water from the Great Lakes butts with the salt water of the Atlantic Ocean. It’s sort of a big deal. And (spoiler alert!) the salty stuff prevails. But that’s the gist of this record: The fresh acoustic stuff welcomes the salty depth. Case in point: the brief instrumental “Odyssea 1201” bleeds (an almost) classical violin into the title track, which is a song that dives into those deep psychological waves, and has the same suspended jellyfish mystery as David Crosby’s “Guinevere.” And that’s high praise. Sometimes, music makes time stand still.

“Truth or Consequences,” is much more driven and melodic. It sheds any pop aspirations and tosses a dart into the very heart of uncertainty, like Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and that’s what great music from the singer-songwriter 70’s epoch did: It sang with the beauty of acoustic purity (and quite often a great melody), yet it often probed, with deep-sea diver puffed profundity, into the conflicts of the fragile human soul.

“Tell Me Cosmo” is organ animated and flute enhanced pure pop for acoustic people.

By the way, the new track, “The Invisible Mrs Lee,” takes a plane from California and lands squarely in London, circa psych pop, the kind of stuff Sir Raymond Davies, Mr. Observer of the Common Person, wrote with an Eleanor Rigby sort of touch. The tune has languid and very sympathetic horns. But, truly, this song is Eight Miles High above the acoustic sound of folk music.

Yet another obscure reference point: listen to Nick Garrie’s The Nightmare of J.B. Stanislas.

“Last Song” is again, acoustic perfect and a bit spooky in the sense that the song leaves so much unsaid. But that, perhaps, is the sad tragedy of life. And the song takes on a hymn-like quality, with the necessary sacrificial smoke, that ends the very best of our vinyl grooves.

It may well be, in the very end, all about “Fire and Rain.”

The poet Robert Frost said something of the same sort.

This is a lovely album that dives into those singer-songwriter depths. And yet it manages a sublime bounce or two, just like Neil, Buzz, and all the other Apollo astronauts did on the Lunar surface, way back in the late 60’s and early 70’s, when melody reigned supreme, and popular music somehow, just like this album, touched the inner soul of the very deep space question of an acoustically tuned aquamarine limited edition vinyl re-issue (with a bonus track to boot!) radio-friendly cosmos.

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