Blue Gentian Records [Release date 22.08.18]
‘Signs And Wonders’ is a remarkably ambitious album from a band based around singer/songwriter/vocalist Alan Williams. But then this is a band that released a 4-CD box set debut in 2011. This time the basic band – Williams with Darleen Wilson (guitar) and Greg Porter (bass) – are augmented by a 20-piece orchestra led by Mimi Rabson.
Williams and Porter formed the band in 2008 after both had attended New England Conservatory of Music. Both have an interesting pedigree, with Porter having played in Aimee Mann and Patty Griffin’s band whilst Williams is Chair of the Department of Music at Massachusetts University Lowell.
The gorgeous opener ‘Waterfall’ perfectly sets the scene, acoustic-driven with splendid string accompaniment and topped off with Thomas Juliano’s impressive guitar figures. It brings to mind the sort of West Coast American vibe pioneered by the likes of the Asylum label in the 1970s and repeated on ‘Smiles Of A Summer Night’.
At times ‘Signs And Wonders’ evokes Marillion/Hogarth at their acoustic best – with shades on the title track (‘Afraid Of Sunrise’, anyone?) and a definite shadow on ‘All Sadness To Come’, with a shimmering orchestral mid-section, and again on ‘Arms Around Me’.
With an over-arching theme of finding beauty in unexpected places, the album also pays homage to Supertramp with a slowed-down adaption of their ‘Logical Song’.
In truth Birdsong At Morning don’t need covers; their own material does very nicely, thank you. And their ambitious project even stretches to a bonus blu-ray disc featuring 5.1 mixes. But this isn’t enough, you’ll end up wanting to explore their previous output. For now, this is a very fine introduction and one of the year’s more compelling packages. ****1/2
Review by David Randall
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In this two hour special David Randall plays a selection of the GRTR! reviewer choices for ‘Best of 2019′ and announces the results of the popular poll. First broadcast Sunday 22 December 2019.
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