Friday, April 21, 2017

Gwyneth Moreland - Cider

Gwyneth Moreland - Cider

The fact that an album like this can exist in 2017 is testament to the abiding values of the popular music art form. Gwyneth Moreland’s Cider features ten tracks with a decidedly folk influence, along with other styles coloring the writing and performances, but it touches on the eternal verities of human experience in a timeless and highly personal way. The sunlight and shade of Moreland’s California upbringing vary throughout the songs and reflect the personal touch that makes this album stand out more than many other releases in recent memory. Moreland has the skill level of someone who has been doing this for many years and has a well honed musical vision. It’s truly bracing to imagine how much further she may go from this point on. Cider is an unusually powerful release from a musical scene that’s far from moribund.  

It would be easy for us to assume that spartan music like this doesn’t challenge listeners. The style seems so archaic in our technologically advanced time, but few musical presentations still communicate as effectively as a first class singer working in an acoustic setting that emphasizes taste – never overplaying and just serving the melodic purposes of the composition. “Movin’ On” is the first example of this on Cider. She takes on one of the most familiar tempos in country and folk music, even rock, the shuffle and makes it work for her with a surprising freshness. “Broken Road” shows a bluesy tinge, but it likely owes much more to the classic country tradition despite the continued low-fi approach. The mood is decidedly less jovial and carefree, but the same attention to detail makes both songs stand out. There’s a steadiness to the guitar playing on “Farmhouse” that has a slightly jovial air as well. There’s much of a reliance on worked out melody lines, but the chunky guitar chords set their own sort of atmosphere. “Eloise” reverts to a much more melodic approach but there’s a consistency of structure defining the entire collection that gives even these more delicately wrought tunes a definite shape. “The California Zephyr” has some classic bluegrass feel making its mark on certain passages thanks to the inclusion of banjo, but it is never a dominant musical factor of the song. Moreland’s ability throughout the album to incorporate a variety of sounds without steering the songwriting in specific directions sets her apart from many contemporaries. 

“Your Smile” is another sterling example, likewise, of her ability to write emotionally engaging material that strikes both a personal and universal note. It has a clearer structure than many songs on Cider, but that stronger skeleton never hampers its ability to connect. “Danny Parker” rates as one of the album’s strongest pieces and makes for a great pairing with the title song. “Cider” is the album’s penultimate cut but could have easily served as the finale. There’s a salutatory air to this number that helps make it one of the most beautiful moments on an album that’s sure to enchant many. Gwyneth Moreland is a must hear for any fans of quality songwriting and musicianship. 

9 out of 10 stars 

Scott Wigley

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