Gareth Davies-Jones, Chasing Light (Heading West Music, 2011)
Gareth Davies-Jones wastes no time with this follow up to 2008's thoroughly captivating "Water & Light". In many respects, it's business as usual here; but when your usual business is this good you're unlikely to rock the boat. Borrowing from the folk vernacular, married with great skill to soaring pop-laden hooks, "Chasing Light" maintains a steady grasp of humanity and nature, reinforced by an astute compassion-filled lyricism. A potent sensitivity flows through the album, courtesy of Gareth's gentle, soothing vibrato, lending a fragility that belies his confidently executed vocals.
Opening the album, "The Fields" conjures up imagery of filmic proportions, harnessing the forces of nature as a cypher for the tribulations of life and love, within a capacious arrangement that really allows you to experience a sense of escape in the lyrics. Pouring scorn on the world's more materialistic woes, and in particular the media's overhyped reaction, Gareth almost gets angry on "Headlines," but instead opts for a more derisive angle on the seemingly endless stream of bad news that accompanied the world financial crisis, bemoaning the seemingly helpless spiral of despair that ensued.
Elsewhere there is a shift to a more introspective focus; an environment where the gentler tones of Gareth's voice are particularly adept at flooding the lyrics with an intuitively emotive empathy. Whether it's on the traditional paean to his homeland, "Sweet Portaferry," taking a more global view of a divided world on "Berlin To Bethlehem," or the intimate profession of unconditional love that fills "Character," there is an unrelenting gravity that pulls you towards the very heart of the sentiments that are teased out through both the lyrics themselves, and more importantly the flawless integrity with which they are delivered.
The muscular musing of "Troubador" provides an honest account of life as a working musician, resigning oneself to the weariness of travel, whilst recognising the opportunity to broaden one's horizons through the sharing of songs and stories. Similarly powerful is "PQ17," the story of a World War 2 supply convoy, facing the perils of enemy forces whilst crossing the Arctic Ocean; these exquisitely written lyrical history lessons are fast becoming a calling card for Gareth.
Two further traditional songs receive a reworking, with very different results: "Reilly" is reborn as a punchy, rhythm-driven pop effort, whilst "Rover Of The Sea" is interpreted as a dreamy, acoustic ballad. With endeavours like this, the hand of folk can truly reach out to touch the heart of many, with the perpetual relevance of the lyrics furnished with arrangements that contain a genuine appeal to the more contemporary ear.
There really are few writers and performers who consistently perform to the standard exhibited throughout "Chasing Light," a recording that manages to achieve genuinely broad appeal, whilst keeping the sentiments of the writer so manifestly intact. Gareth Davies-Jones is big news; it's only a matter of time before everybody starts waking up to this fact.