Eddi Reader – Vagabond (2014)
It has been five years since the release of Eddi’s last studio album, the wonderful “Love Is The Way”, but now she’s back with a gorgeous album every bit the equal of her very best work, with a mixture of originals written with long-time collaborators Boo Hewerdine and “life partner” John Douglas, self-penned compositions and selected covers of songs dear to Eddi. “Vagabond” is nothing short of a pleasure to listen to from the very first note to the last, a sumptuous mixture of folk and hazy jazz, all adorned with the exquisite instrument that is Reader’s peerless voice. Produced by Reader herself and recorded by Mark Freegard, it truly is a beautifully crafted album and is one of those records that transports the listener to a different place and gives you no other choice but to immerse yourself completely in the listening experience. This is an album for Sunday mornings, for taking with you to listen on long walks in the countryside, to snuggle up with a loved one and indulge in some pleasant conversation; simply put: it’s gorgeous.
The first song on the album is an old jazz number, “I’ll Never Be The Same” which is utterly gorgeous; the sadness of the lyrics being counterbalanced with a playful vocal delivery and Steve Hamilton’s impeccably tasteful piano. It immediately sets a very high standard for the album to achieve and “Vagabond” seldom threatens to dip below this bar. “Back The Dogs (Dancing Down Rock)” is a delightful acoustic waltz, painting a colourful picture of her Grandmother’s old home town, based on stories she used to tell Eddi, with Reader’s voice aptly dancing over the top of guitars, strings and accordion. “Vagabond” is a pretty song, based on a Poem by John Masefield, but does sound like an amalgam of a couple of Boo Hewerdine songs I know well, even though Boo didn’t write this one; I guess that’s what happens when artists collaborate for a lengthy time together! The vague familiarity does nothing to spoil the enjoyment of the piece and it’s the kind of song that will have you singing along with the chorus before the you’ve finished listening to it for the first time.
“Married To The Sea” is Eddi’s arrangement of a particularly romantic Declan O’Rourke folk song, with a winding melody and captivating lyrics. “Edinah” is a deeply personal song, channelling her mother singing to her daughter who is trying to making it as a young artist in the music business. The lovely “Snowflakes In The Sun” captures the feelings of loss within a gentle, wistful jazz-influenced melody and “Baby’s Boat” is based on a nineteenth century lullaby which Eddi first heard in the Robert De Niro film, “Awakenings” and is the minor key, but upbeat somehow jaunty, result of a jam with John and Boo, complete with a smoky clarinet part played by talented multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggern. Eddi informs us that “The Bard of Dundee”, Michael Marra, is responsible for writing the appealing “Macushla (My Darling)”, a song that sounds so familiar to me and yet I can’t ever recall consciously hearing it. “Midnight In Paris 1979” sees Eddi reminiscing about a youthful trip to the French capital but, although this is obviously meaningful to her, it is sadly the most unremarkable and least focused composition on the album.
The inclusion of traditional song “Buain Na Rainich” has a fascinating story; Eddi was clearing out her recently departed Uncle James’ home and found some dusty sheet music that he used to play from and picked out the top line of this particular song, marrying it with a waltz time and retaining the original Gaelic language lyrics. It’s absolutely stunning in its beauty and is certainly one of my very favourite tracks on the album. “In Ma Ain Country” is a light, airy take on another traditional tune which is pleasant, if unspectacular, “Pray The Devil Back To Hell”, composed with partner John, is a beauteous song, undulating and rippling like a Scottish stream and “Here Comes The Bells” trots along with a likeable melody and gentle pace. The final track is one of the jewels in the crown of “Vagabond”, a song I know and love, Boo Hewerdine’s “It’s A Beautiful Night” which appeared on his most recent solo album, “God Bless The Pretty Things” (which is also highly recommended). It’s a really lovely rendition; all acoustic guitars, accordions, brushed snares and steel guitars, with Eddi reading the emotion of the song perfectly; it’s a superb end to an excellent release.
Of course, “Vagabond” isn’t going to appeal to everybody. However, if you have previously bought an Eddi Reader album and enjoyed it, you’re probably going to love this one. If you love folk and light jazz, again, I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t fall in love with the songs on this album. “Vagabond” is for people who appreciate lovingly crafted songwriting, who enjoy hearing great musicians coaxing the best and most apt performances out of their instruments, who understand the importance of subtlety and understatement. Of course, it is only February, but this is easily the best piece of work I’ve heard in 2014 and I am sure that it will remain one of my favourites of the year, regardless of whatever else follows. It is lovingly written and performed and is one of Reader’s finest projects to date, one which will definitely be played and enjoyed over the coming weeks and years; I recommend it, enthusiastically.