Thieves’ Kitchen — The Clockwork Universe

Roger Trenwith has a great review of a great album; here’s a taste:

Amy Darby has one of those unaffected voices that trace a lineage of female contemporary jazz and folk singers back to Barbara Gaskin, Jacqui McShee, et al, and in places, even Joni Mitchell is brought to mind. The overall feel is of a decidedly folk-tinged Canterbury air, but fronted by the lush occasionally jazz, occasionally prog rock-styled guitar of Phil Mercy, who is certainly influenced by Steve Howe … and influences do not come much better than that. When Johan Brand is adding his best pounding Rickenbacker bass sound to the mix, then the “Yes go to Canterbury” bus is well and truly on the road, particularly so with the intro to Prodigy. Suffice to say none of this is plagiaristic or intentional, and the end result is Thieves’ Kitchen and no-one else.

An album to get lost in, the intricacy is combined with great delicacy on the baroque piano ballad Astrolabe and its instrumental companion, the beautiful closer Orrery, tracks that punctuate the longer vocal songs. Surrounding those two tunes we have all manner of complex instrumentation always delivered without bombast, complementing the theme of the album perfectly, which narrates stories of naturally imperfect human contact and interaction with precise science and technology.

The focal point of the album is the twenty minute The Scientist’s Wife, a tale of a spouse’s estrangement to her husband’s questing obsession, and a “long ’un” that fully justifies its length. The music drives along with purpose searching for the end goal in much the same way as the protagonist’s husband is striving for his own answer. It takes over five minutes before the “wife” makes herself heard, calming the building musical insistency to sing her lament for days past when she was the light of her husband’s eye, only to be slowly martyred on the altar of the grand experiment. Some lovely flute work from Anna Holmgren only serves to underline the melancholy…“When I sing, I sing alone; I’m fading to grey”. The experiment recommences, the band let loose amongst the unfathomable cogs and pivots. Some great guitar work from Phil bursts through the intricate turning mechanisms, before we return to melancholy, ending with “Charming strangeness, a beautiful mind” from Amy and followed by Anna’s sad flute. Quite lovely.


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