Written by: Dave Cantrell
While close to the wire and with one more in the pipeline, I continue with this idea that January is the 13th month of the previous year, using that – admittedly absurd – invention as a means to cover as many late-2017 releases as I can. This time ’round, we look into the new album from apparently irrepressible singer-songwriter Nick Garrie, an artist for whom the concept ‘obscurity’ only led to greater, and much deserved, renown. Details in the text below, my dears, and stay tuned for one last gasp.
The first thing you notice, and you notice it right away, is the pitch and ebb of the singer’s presence. On opening track “Lois’ Diary,” a straightforward story song the simpleness of which speaks in layers and that itself carries a diaristic bent, the keening warmth of the voice, its rueful recollections presented as a type of deeply intimate nostalgia, suggests more the glow of lived-in autobiography than a spun tale sung by an earnest teller of songwriterly vignettes. If poignancy can be defined as feeling the inherent sweetness inside the ache of existence, Nick Garrie’s songcraft, his innate narrative voice, quite simply embodies it.
It’s an essence bred no doubt by the rather odd odyssey of the man’s backstory, one that saw him release a destined-to-be-legendary debut in 1969 at the age of nineteen that at the time sank like a stone in the too-common quagmire of label mismanagement. As it happened, however, The Nightmare of J.B. Stanislas, a fresh adventurous and preternaturally intelligent spell of pop-touched baroque folk, was simply too strong an effort to succumb to the ravages of obscurity, proving itself – in contrast to many recordings of its time – remarkably resilient and damned near ageless as it was eventually discovered by later Stanislasian descendants, Teenage Fanclub, Camera Obscura, Ladybug Transistor, and BMX Bandits among them. Happily, that attention – which led to a 2005 reissue – would lure Garrie back into the studio a full forty years past that debut’s appearance, the result, 49 Arlington Gardens, produced by BMX’s Duglas Stewart and featuring the Fannies’ Norman Blake, an astonishing bookend to its ’69 predecessor, the voice virtually unweathered, the songs natural extensions imbued by the audio enhancements of the 21st c. (and clearly there’s something to this lengthy hiatus between records one and two business, or at least where material of a certain vulnerability is concerned; see the Distractions End of the Pier from 2012). Now, after a mere one-fifth that first interim, comes The Moon & the Village, an album that, against most odds I’d say, strikes even richer notes of the personal than before, everything here feeling so much closer to the proverbial bone.
The impression gleaned from that first cut, from the cello-warmed “I’m On Your Side,” from “Early Morning in the Garden”‘s unique sense of a mournful joyousness (trust me on that one), and “My Dear One,” a stirring paean to love and loss in the vein, almost literally, of solo Richard Thompson, is of a songwriter not just taking reflective stock – that’s to be expected given Garrie’s age and journey that brought him here – but even more of a man shaking off mortality by adopting the wise-but-immeasurably-courageous posture of full and unconditional acceptance of his lot and how it’s played out. One gets the further impression that it’s that very dropped resistance that frees the reins and allows the perky acoustic jauntiness of the title track – a glowing narrative gem, it must be said – the soon-to-be-a-standard “Music From A Broken Violin” with its dusky playfulness and deft lyrical turns (“Young men dance like cripples while their fathers weep like boys”), and “Bacardi Samuel,” a gently spirited slice of Loudenesque cabaret folk-pop that stands in as a loving tribute to, essentially, the village drunk.
The primary takeaway, however, is that regardless of what might rightly be considered a bum hand dealt him in the form of those ‘lost’ decades, bitterness has no place in Nick Garrie’s psyche, and in fact it would appear that he’s relishing the hell out of this phase of his life. Only fair considering the pleasure taken by those of us out here on the listening side of the equation. Now all we have to hope for is that there’s again a one-fifth trimming of the interim between this album and the next and we’ll be discussing another full-length come the fall of 2020.