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Winter Blues (Spunk/Caroline)

There’s no certainty that location and natural setting/atmosphere matters when recording an album: artists and producers go both ways on that question. But I’m easily convinced that it does play a role in hearing and responding to an album.

I finally came to write this review on a day of low grey skies and damp ground, the vestiges of the night before’s rain still hanging on the gutters and the warmth muted. Like my mood, like the tempos of these ten songs, like the shuttered room of piano and a single microphone, like Emma Russack’s singing.

Like Emma Russack singing “blame it on my winter blues”.

If not actual winter blues, this combination of song and light and atmosphere certainly had about it the feeling of a closed-in-the-house response, one which projected only as far as the windows: looking at the world outside and deciding yeah, nah, you can keep that.

Even as Russack sang – or admonished more than sang - “you gotta be real, you gotta be real”, the question remained just what was so good about being real, and what did that mean anyway? Who would you be real for? And would they even notice.

“I feel like I’ve moved mountains for you,” she said elsewhere, and it wasn’t clear whether that something to be proud of or to regret. What is clear is that the aggression that peeked its way through Be Real was in part a flowering of frustration, the mostly under-spoken element of Winter Blues.

The relationship, or relationships, explored here are clipped by control and held down by a passive resistance that in retrospect is laced heavily with regret. But where was that when it mattered? “I am like the ocean, deep and dark and powerful, and yet I would scroll for days and weeks and months if you would let me play on my phone”

Like a cross between Laura Jean (the quietly mesmerising Like The Wind especially) and pre-marriage Bill Callahan, Winter Blues plays to its vulnerabilities, stylistically speaking. Pared back further, and emotionally less secure, than its predecessor, 2017’s Permanent Vacation (reviewed here) it’s mostly slow, mostly minimal, and mostly static in its rhythm.

When Russack does lay back into the groove, on I Could Say, Horses, and Keeping My Cool, it is still subtle: the rhythms brushed on and the bass almost subliminal. Almost. This isn’t curled up under the blankets stuff, but it wouldn’t come close to rattling the closed windows.

Her singing doesn’t so much build on that as fit within its parameters, crawling between the spaces in Follow My Heart, stepping over the cracks in What Is Love and edging through Never Before.

Russack is staying in. Like you will. Is it still raining? It may as well be.


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