Chosen One: Adrian Crowley
Words: Mark Carry, Illustration: Craig Carry
A special album is very soon to be released on the ever dependable Chemikal Underground label, namely Adrian Crowley’s sixth studio album. ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is Adrian’s highly anticipated follow-up to 2009’s Choice Music Prize winning album, ‘Season Of The Sparks’. Crowley’s peerless baritone immerses you into a deeply contemplative listening experience. The prose and storytelling on ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is mesmerizing that evokes rich imagery. ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is timeless, in the truest sense that captivates the heart. This enchanting album is Crowley’s strongest to date, and is a fitting addition to a rich body of work.
Earlier in the summer, Adrian Crowley’s new music was introduced to audiences during the Cork Midsummer Festival. The event itself was Bowerbird: Modern folk and beyond that was curated by Adrian Crowley and Gary Sheehan. In essence, the event heralded an exploration of the folk tradition in 2012, over the course of two majestic nights. Folk luminaries such as Andy Irvine, Sam Amidon, Adrian Crowley, Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat performed their unique blend of folk music in the intimate surrounds of Triskel Christchurch that was utterly transcendent. The magical flow of emotion I felt on those two nights in June have flooded back upon the arrival of Crowley’s ‘I See Three Birds Flying’. In fact, the rich musical tapestry of the latest album is an exploration of modern folk and beyond. Albums like this do not come around very often, but when they do, a gem of a discovery is made.
‘I See Three Birds Flying’ was co-produced with long-standing comrade, Stephen Shannon. The strings were performed, arranged and recorded by London-based duo Geese (Vincent Sipprell and Emma Smith) and Cork cellist Kevin Murphy. The personnel on these recording sessions have been the same collaborators on much of Crowley’s previous works. It is clear a deep chemistry exists between this tight knit group of loyal friends that creates the rich canvas for Adrian’s vivid colours and textures. A wide range of instrumentation is used by Crowley; marxophone, mellotron, baby grand piano, electric guitar and omnichord, in turn, providing the perfect backdrop to Crowley’s glorious storytelling.
Album opener ‘Lady Lazarus’ immediately lures you in. ‘Well I took up residence/With a girl of many charms/Thousand mile eyes and hunger in her arms’ are the first words you hear, amidst heavenly strings. Many of the vocals for the album were captured in the first take and this is evident on ‘Lady Lazarus’. A directness exists in Crowley’s aching voice. There is humour with a playful turn of phrase, ‘And little did I know what little I’d forget’. The string arrangement is stunning. The swirling melody reminds me of Georges Delerue’s ‘Camille’ such is the sheer beauty created. In just over two minutes, ‘Lady lazarus’ pours with emotion and tenderness with startling effect, which could be Jacques Brel or Scott Walker. ‘September Wine’ starts with a gently picked guitar, percussion and cello. Crowley sings ‘I was never one for reunions/and never one for goodbyes’ on the chorus with a palpable immediacy that echoes James Yorkston. One of my favourite lyrics are on the final verse, ‘Got the royalest of soakings in a London shower’. Atmospheric strings brings ‘September Wine’ to a gorgeous close. Next up is ‘Alice Among The Pines’ which is reminiscent of Bill Callahan. Delicate strumming of electric guitar and piano provides the sonic backdrop. ‘Her life is a eulogy, I try to keep time/I’d sing along if she knew a line/And we enter the forest ‘deep dark and sublime’/Her words not mine, Alice among the pines’. Crowley’s lyrics is poetry. The rich imagery that lies in the heartfelt lament evokes immense beauty. ‘Deep dark and sublime’ indeed. ‘In this endless dream of mine I step from the shadows one last time’, Crowley sings on the opening verse beneath a meditative hymn like opus of sound makes you feel afloat in an age-long dream. An endless seam of lyrics on each verse lingers long after the words are uttered, ‘Where reasons are many and excuses are few/Ever spinning the reverie into this dream of mine.’ Lead single ‘Saddest Song In The World’ is majestic. If only all singles released today would sound like this, wouldn’t that be something. Gorgeous strings and electric guitar breathe beneath ‘the tear soaked pages of careworn lines and forlorn phrases’ of Crowley’s storytelling. A magical realm of sound comes to light on the chorus, ‘And I tried to write/The Saddest Song In The World’. Soaring violin, viola and cello brings the song to a magnificent climax. Sublime.
‘At The Starlight Hotel’ is Leonard Cohen’s ‘Chelsea Hotel’ for the 21st Century. A beautiful melodic guitar line leads you in to the Starlight Hotel; where ‘the shutters are down and the waltzers are under wrap’ at the nearby arcade. Some of the storytelling echoes Morrisey, ‘And inside my pocket/Is a torn ticket stub/ For the Cinema of Forgotten Matinees.’ ‘Fortune Teller Song’ is the title track of the album, and my favourite. To read the words alone is a pure delight. ‘I see three ships sailing/One is eastward bound and/One will run aground/And one will lead you home’ is the first verse. On the second verse, Crowley sings ‘I see three birds flying/One will steal your rings and/One will make you sing/And one will lead you home.’ Utterly beautiful. The closing line is: ‘I see three roads turning’. An awe inspiring ballad of a mere two and a half minutes in length and drifts in a soft whirlwind of delicate guitar, piano and string section.
‘Red River Maples’ is (yet) another gem. The descriptive imagery paints the art that’s on display here: ‘Red River Maples and Blue of the Heavens/Bitter night shade, black eyed Susan/And Blue of the Heavens’. Dreamlike vocals, mellotron and piano creates the eerie quality so prevalent throughout. The song takes you to ‘a shady arbour’: ‘In a shady arbour/I watched her sing with a locket in her hand/My bride to be/And she sang so soft and the words were wild/And I left her there in the shady arbour.’ Brooding electric guitar opens ‘Juliet In Flames’. This is vintage Smog/Bill Callahan territory and the song’s immediacy is breathtaking. ‘Carrying dangerous cargo/Steer well clear of me/Juliet I’m in flames’ is the song’s chorus that could be ‘I Break Horses’ by Smog. The song is a tour de force. The arrangement comes to the fore halfway through with meandering guitar notes and layers of vocals creating an atmospheric crescendo. ‘Seven seconds, I count the gaps/Between lightning and thunder crack/This fair warning I give you/Take heed’ builds the tension that could easily be the soundtrack to a Shane Meadows film.
Humour is found on the sparse ‘The Mock Wedding’. The lyrics of the chorus, ‘It’s a near perfect morning for a near perfect wedding/All rise for her, The Mock Wedding Bride.’ The omnichord creates a woodwind sound that recalls Robert Wyatt. ‘From Champions Avenue To Misery’ is the penultimate song on ‘I See Three Birds Flying’. A deep sense of longing and searching can be felt, ‘And I’ve come back to find you/And then bend to your will/From Champions Avenue to Misery Hill.’ Floating electric guitars and field recording creates a cinematic backdrop to these honest and touching words. ‘The Morning Bell’ brings ‘I See Three Birds Flying’ to a thrilling close. ‘So ring, ring, ring the morning bells’ is the song’s refrain, sung amidst joyous drums, bass, cello, piano and guitar.
‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is an artistic treasure and a haven for the senses. Immerse yourself in ‘the great beyond’ with ‘the catherine wheel spinning bright in the dark’, the ‘house of shells’, the ‘city of ghosts’ and ‘blue of the heavens.’
‘I See Three Birds Flying’ is released on the 14th of September on Chemikal Underground.