Album Review: Gren Bartley – Magnificent Creatures
Gren Bartley has a unique voice and his own kind of confidence. His voice quivers sometimes. His compositions can be overly full. But his album is full of resonant sounds and inspiring phrases that keep me coming back for more. In short, his work deserves some press and a place on this site. So here friends, enjoy some Gren Bartley.
The opening “Tall Wooden Walls” is uptempo folk music. There are guitars, piano, violin, and a cool like “diddly-i-o” lyric. The best part by far is the confident guitar line that creates power and conviction in the song. It’s a track about perseverance in a relationship (I think) and it inspires that essential momentum that it takes to have a successful relationship.
We tend to feature a lot of purely melodic singer songwriters around here, but Bartley is not necessarily as cut and dry. Some of his work is a bit rough and ragged, often in the best way. On “Angel’s Fade” his opening line “the sky fell down, the sky fell down and the lights jumped up at a lakeside town.” It’s that kind of rhythm with lyrics that make the rough hewn vocals gloss together nicely. Bartley invites in gorgeous harmonies for “Angel’s Fade,” themselves bringing a bit of angelic presence to the track.
Both “Portland” and “Nightingale” have a bigger, almost pop sound to them. The latter is full of colorful guitar stylings that whisper and dance throughout the track. Then the vocals bring in a much more heavy handed sound. It strikes me that Bartley is at his best when laying down the intricate British folk riffs. The simple, timeless and traditional melody presented on “Nightingale” is just delightful.
“Of the Girl” tells the story of a girl sleeping beneath the stars (although it may be a metaphor about something else). The song is written with a gentle phrasing and nice guitar lines as primarily an instrumental track. “Home Soon” has a completely different style. It’s much more of a big production song, more like contemporary country music. “Strange Times” shifts back to the softer, melancholy singer songwriter style. It’s about how difficult life can be in this day and age just getting by. It hits pretty close to home.
The final track “Silent Hotel” puts away Bartley’s trusty guitar in favor of vocal blending. It’s an interesting way to end a varied album. It definitely puts me in mind of traditional British vocal music.
This album’s strength is in the guitar work. Some of the vocals are strong, too. All told this album reminded me of an album I covered a few years ago by a British singer songwriter named The Widowmaker. The tracks with Bartley and his fingerpicking are definitely the gems on the album. I look forward to hearing more of that style in future albums from him. Our fans in the UK will find much to like from Bartley’s gestures toward your historical music. Fans in North America will hear many similarities and roots to the folk music we tend to support here.