This is a great album of Gaelic influenced folky music from a man with both a great talent and a great voice.
Drever has a truly beautiful voice that leads us through gentle tales rooted firmly in Scotland. Backed by a sparse production, the whole thing just evokes images in the minds eye of lovers walking across the heather in the swirling mists. It's one of those records that instantly becomes a firm favourite and lodges itself in the CD player. A beautiful piece an at times moving piece of music, 5 stars.
Music is a subjective beast but I am yet to find a Kris Drever offering that stays out of my stereo long enough to go back on the shelf and he never leaves my MP3 player. He is a contemporary folk musician and song writer with a wonderfully different voice. This album is no different. I'm not a writer and I cannot wax lyrical about the intricacies of the music or writing, like some reviewers on Amazon do, I can only recommend that you have a listen to his work and see for yourself.
Formerly of folk sensation FINE FRIDAY (3 albums) and now very much part of the respected and awarded LAU (3 albums), Scottish born Drever made his stunning solo debut "Black Water" back in 2006 - and I've been hooked on his music ever since.
Drever then followed "Black Water" with the more overtly country almost ragtime "Honky Tonk Suite" with EAMONN COYNE later that same year - and has also done stints with the beautiful Kate Rusby and her band (we're talking class here). With his deft acoustic guitar touches and a deep tonal voice that is the male equivalent of honey dribbling down Rusby's frankly delicious bosom (a sight that would make many clergymen reconsider celibacy), it's hardly surprising that this album is awaited by folk fans with bated breath and chattering teeth. I'm therefore delighted to say and a little relieved to report that after a few listens - it's been worth the wait.
"Mark The Hard Earth" is his 2nd solo album proper and it's being put out on Navigator Records NAVIGATOR 30 (the label is named after a track on "Black Water"). It was produced by long-time collaborator and Scottish fiddle player JOHN McCUSKER and recorded, engineered and mastered with the help of CALUM MALCOLM of Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout and Simple Minds recording fame. With such talent on board, it's hardly surprising that the audio quality is truly gorgeous - beautifully clear without ever being over-produced. The 12-page booklet offers little more than song credits and a few photos, but the card-wrap on the outside of the jewel case lends the whole thing a classy feel (44:21 minutes).
The songs are once again a mixture of lesser-known Scottish and Irish traditional airs ("O' A' The Airts", "The Banks Of The Nile" and "Freedom Come A' Ye") and a slew of originals from contemporary rock, country and Americana artists - "This Old Song" by CALEB KLAUDER (on his "Dangerous Mes and Poisonous Yous" album) and "Shining Star" and "Wild Hurricane" by SANDY WRIGHT (an American songwriter often compared to Tom Waits or even Johnny Cash), while "Sweet Honey In The Rock" is co-written with BOO HEWERDINE (formerly of THE BIBLE) and JOHN McCUSKER. The only original of his own is the opening track "Mark The Hard Earth" - as lovely a folk song as you're likely to hear all year (lyrics above).
The accompanying musicians include classy names he's used many times before - Ian Carr on Guitars, Tim O'Brien on Mandolin, Banjo and Vocals, Donald Shaw on Wurly and Harmonium, John McCusker on Fiddle, Andy Seward on Bass and Phil Cunningham on Accordion. Instead of Eddi Reader or Kate Rusby, the accompanying duet vocals however go to HEIDI TALBOT on "Allegory" and "The Banks Of The Nile" while KAREN POLWART features on "Freedom Come A' Ye".
Musically the album is very mellow - quietly beautiful - with the old songs sitting nicely alongside the new ones. His doubled vocals on Sandy Wright's "Wild Hurricane" are fabulous while the plaintive "O' A' The Airts" works its way into your heart almost immediately - washing over you like warm water. Duncan Drever's "The Crown Of London" is a genuine modern-day beauty - Ian Carr's guitar picking and Donald Shaw's work on the Harmonium and Wurly so sweetly complimentary. The only track I found not so good is their short version of "The Banks Of The Nile" which they've also speeded up. Despite Heidi Talbot's lovely duet vocals on it (similar voice to Cara Dillon) - the Fotheringay version from 1970 runs to 8 minutes (Sandy Denny on vocals) and is so much prettier and frankly more magical. But the album ends on a very warm sound indeed - the Hamish Henderson song "Freedom Come A' Ye" which features lovely vocal work from Karen Polwart.
I'll admit that at first I found the whole thing a little underwhelming and it took a few listens to love it (it's not as immediately brilliant as "Black Water"), but "Mark The Hard Earth" is without doubt yet another gem in a career that seems to know no stopping.
Prolific and consistent, Kris Drever deserves a larger audience but while folk music remains far from mainstream this will probably be a forlorn hope. A neat mixture of original and traditional songs this a more rounded album than the first one and has a warm and mellow feel to it even if sometimes the subject matter of the songs wouldn't suggest this. this is one of those albums that you can play quite happily as background music whilst friends are round but eventually you will notice the conversation dying as people stop to actually listen to the album.
So often when you love a debut album from an artist the follow up never quite lives up to expectations. I can honestly say that this isn't the case with Kris's follow up to Black Water.
Some things remain from the first album - we have two tracks written by Sandy Wright for a start. That had to be good news given the strength of the two he wrote on the first album and I wasn't disappointed. We have Shining Star (albeit with a Phil Cunningham tune called Frank McConnell's Three Step in the middle of it) and Wild Hurricane this time, both beautiful and melancholy.
We also have one track from Boo Hewerdine again. This time it's Sweet Honey On The Rock, one of the more uptempo numbers on the album. We also have a couple of more traditional numbers - The Banks Of The Nile & Freedom Come A'ye.
Throw in some great songs from other writers and we have a great album.
The differences? Well Kris wrote the title track, following on from his first song on the last Lau album (the fabulous Wintermoon). It's a cracking opener and Kris also added the tune for O' A' The Airts (words a certain R. Burns). We also have a song written by his brother Duncan - The Crown Of London - which is one of my favourites at the moment. No tunes this time either, only songs. Presumably the tunes end up with Lau now!
Among the other writers are Kaleb Klauder who Kris toured Scotland last year with Going Across The Sea. He contributed This Old Song. Then we have Murray Attaway's Allegory and Phil Colclough's The Call And The Answer.
All in all I think it's a move on from Black Water, showing an increased confidence. I would accuse most artists of laziness if it took from 2006 to 2010 to produce a second album, but given the range of projects and the quality of each I'll let him off! There aren't many albums that pass the test of not skipping tracks while listening to it in the car, but this one made it with flying colours.
Here's hoping it isn't 2014 before album number three!!!
A lot has changed in the world of Kris Drever since he released his debut solo album `Black Water'. The former Fine Friday member, now one third of multi-award winning tour de force LAU, has put out three long players and seen success with other projects, including collaborations with John McCukser & Roddy Woomble, Eamonn Coyne and Heidi Talbot.
`Mark The Hard Earth' opens with the title track, Kris' first self-penned song on a solo record. It sets the benchmark for the album and picks up where `Navigator', the closing track to `Black Water' left off. Similarities in atmosphere to `Black Water' are perhaps not surprising, seeing as most of the key musicians and the producers remain the same.
`This Old Song' with its fluctuating time signatures, ups the tempo and is the nearest thing on the album to anything like `Harvest Gypsies' on `Black Water'. Elsewhere there are songs by Sandy Wright (`Shining Star' and `Wild Hurricane') as well as the fantastic `Sweet Honey In The Rock', composed by Boo Hewerdine & John McCusker.
The album's closing songs are as strong as its openers with `The Crown Of London' written by Kris' brother Duncan, `The Banks Of The Nile' a beautiful duet with Heidi Talbot and the stirring `Freedom Come A'ye' with guest vocals from Karine Polwart.
`Mark The Hard Earth' is not a ground breaking record. Think of it more as proof, were proof needed, that Kris Drever is one of his generation's great artists. It is an album in the proper sense of the word and you should own it