Whisky & Wool
Play Josh Bray’s Whisky & Wool to a Rip Van Winkle character who fell asleep around 1972 and you would convince him he’d only slept for a couple of hours! This beautifully crafted set of songs, however, was created in two 21st-century studios in London and Oxfordshire with much of the technology that was absent when the likes of Quintessence, Mighty Baby and Henry Cow were making their first appearance on vinyl and at UK festivals.
Bray’s early years as a rock music fan was conventional enough in terms of the sounds he and his peers grew up with. His conversion to early 70s folk-rock came about when he caught a TV film of the late Nick Drake performing “River Man” from his classic album Five Leaves Left. From that moment, Bray devoured music by the likes of Neil Young, CSN, Joni Mitchell, John Martyn, Dylan and the Fairports.
Nick Drake’s influence is readily apparent on the hypnotic folk ballad “Bigger Than The Both Of Us”, with its arpeggio detuned guitar playing and Robert Kirby-esque cello accompaniment together with Bray’s hauntingly delivered soft vocal phrasings. The opening track, “The River Song”, has a bluesy melodic feel and sublime harmonica fills that could have come straight from the creative skills of Neil Young around the time he released After The Gold Rush. Other clear influences include that poetic troubadour Donovan Leitch whose phrasing and guitar strumming can be easily recognised on “Rise”.
Despite these acknowledgements to past musical colossae, Josh Bray’s Whisky & Wool (its title coming from the freezing conditions that permeated the winter recording of several of the tracks at the Truck Studios, set in an Oxfordshire barn where woollies and whisky kept the musicians warm and sane!) is a fine debut album from an original talent. One of Bray’s gifts may well be to introduce his musical influences and heroes to a brand new generation of music lovers. Another is to showcase the warmth and quality of his own very fine material.
Release date: March 14