Winter Mountain : I Swear I Flew18.11.2016 : Astral Fox Records
Cornwall's Joe Francis possesses an extraordinarily engaging singing voice, that resonates in a place somewhere between those of Tom Petty and Show of Hands' Steve Knightly. He is also an exceptional songwriter and musician - I Swear I Flew is the logical result, an absorbing and striking set of songs.
This is the second Winter Mountain release. The first, an eponymous debut, was released to rapturous acclaim in 2013 - then the project was a duo, with obviously more emphasis on harmony but also a gentler sound; a trawl through their videos from that period confirms the radiant and fragile appeal of the music they made. Co-writer and singer Marty Smyth's departure has undeniably changed the nature of Winter Mountain, now essentially a solo project - but the second album is not a lesser offering, instead there is just a harder sound framing still shimmering songs.
Throughout I Swear I Flew the lyrics rely heavily on natural metaphor and tend to be rooted in folk and country in their form - but it is not just how they are sung that then electrifies them, these are very well written songs - managing to be immediate and familiar without flailing into cliché.
All this is demonstrated in the first track Platinum and Gold, which is a stomping, swaggering manifesto - a tempo sustained with Sunlight, Good Roads - an elevating, hopeful track gifted at the end of a relationship. What follows this pair is a well-structured album that it is hard not to be engrossed by.
The quieter songs - Morning Bell (a line from which provides the album's title) with its poetic lyric and softly picked guitar melody, the precise Dragonfly, and the elegiac, lamenting piano of Fireworks Night - are all stunning and evocative.
The tracks where rock muscles are flexed are ranged from the smoothly uplifting to the scintillating - Open Heart exemplifies the former, the cleverness and irresistible roll of Platinum and Gold the latter.
Seth Lakeman, amongst others, lends instrumental (fiddle, bouzouki and tenor guitar) and vocal support, but this is resolutely Joe Francis' album - he sings and plays electric, acoustic and bass guitar, mandolin, piano and harmonica - but he also stamps every aspect of the recording with his rare talent, which steers this collection of Americana influenced folk, pop and rock resolutely away from ever hogging the middle of the road.
The title I Swear I Flew is wrong in tense only - the second Winter Mountain album is the sound of a project still in understated, majestic flight.
As part of the UK Tour to promote I Swear I Flew, Winter Mountain appear at The Blue Sky Cafe, Bangor on Thursday, 17th November.
WINTER MOUNTAIN I Morning Bell (Demo of album track)