Gwyneth Moreland – Cider
Gwyneth Moreland’s Cider is an intimately arranged and produced affair that positions Moreland as one of the pre-eminent talents working in folk music today. Folk music is an all-encompassing term, as used here, because there are a number of musical strains coloring the album’s ten songs and it resists easy labeling. Moreland’s talents are further burnished by working with a number of excellent production and accompanying musicians who fully understand how to elevate these performances. There’s obviously a tremendous amount of care taken with these songs – the nuanced recording, tasteful playing, and excellent construction defining these tracks helps make the release stand out as one of the genre’s marquee albums in recent memory. Creating a musical gem doesn’t require the same amount of pressure needed to form diamonds – instead, there’s a mix of focus and relaxed grace needed to make your effort stand out. That’s present on this album and there’s a palpable confidence that makes it even more memorable.
Even at its darkest moments, there’s a real sense of joy in Moreland’s music making. It comes through on material as seemingly disparate as the opener “Movin’ On” and the third and fifth tracks, “Little Bird” and “Eloise” respectively. The former has a lighter touch, but it nevertheless has a classily handled theatricality and Moreland’s crystalline phrasing aches with real feeling. “Eloise” has a much moodier demeanor and minor key thrust, but there’s never a moment during any of these songs when you truly think Moreland has succumbed to despair. Another memorable aspect of the songs in this collection is the focus she keeps up throughout the song. Both songs also show her ability for hitting upon recognizable traditional language in new and inventive ways. Call it a talent for pouring old wine into new bottles. “The California Zephyr” has Gene Parsons contributing outstanding banjo playing that never outshines the accompanying instruments but, rather, plays with them. Moreland really excels at conjuring a haunting feel, placing these narratives on the biggest of possible stages, but there’s never a sense of the songs being overwrought. They are carefully crafted mini-dramas each time out.
There’s certainly a strong sense of the bittersweet altering the taste of “Your Smile”, but it may be the real sleeper on this album. It has a very deliberate, pensive arrangement centered on acoustic guitar, naturally, but the backing vocals joining Moreland at various points throughout the song give it an even stronger poetic quality and the lyrics are particularly wrenching. Character pieces, to a certain extent, are the peaks on Cider and few are as detailed and fraught with tension like “Danny Parker”. The evocative language is given a further twist by her singing and it rates among her best vocal turns. There’s a very reflective feel defining the music and lyrics of the title track while Moreland underscores the atmosphere with an attentive singing performance. There’s a slight upward swing making the final track, “Summer Song”, sparkle in a way few of the other tracks do. It’s an appropriately hopeful finale that stays consistent with much of what’s come before. It varies the emotional mood of Cider just enough more to make it a deeper, richer experience. This is an unique release and seems perfectly realized in a way few albums are. Its cool and earnest confidence comes through from the first note to the last.
9 out of 10 stars