JESSIE BUCKLEY AND BERNARD BUTLER
For All Our Days That Tear The Heart (Universal)
“I carry the looms of our desire/But I got stung when I got close/Burnt my soul to dust, turned my blood to rust.”
Dramatic? Well, the people in these songs are not whole. Fractured and cracking, they’re not done with, but they have been done over – sometimes by themselves, to be fair – and picking through the pieces of the wrong calls, or the right calls at the wrong time, or simply the tail end of a path that has no further to go no matter the best intentions of everyone, can leave someone untethered.
“I love you too much, I hate you too long/The part doesn’t last holding on too strong,” we hear in the same song. “Hurt you to know I’m your beautiful regret.”
Here is the bit that may surprise: while the emotions suggest we are on the border of florid, on an album where lyrically the large gesture or the vivid expression sits comfortably – an album let’s not forget named, with no small intent, For All Our Days That Tear The Heart – this song, Beautiful Regret, sits back in the semi-darkness. The setting is a still night with an arc of slide guitar, the semi-narcotised tempo is like a tossed over the shoulder farewell, the tone stays somewhere between indifference and benign neglect.
The trick, if it could be called that, of this album is that Jessie Buckley and Bernard Butler so comfortably, so confidently, walk the criss-crossing lines of heated drama and chilled aftermath, of sharp incisions and gentle pleadings, of torch song and absolutely scorched characters.
It’s not just her voice, though it unspools character with ease, yet tempers judgment with a sense of sympathy (the title track). Nor is it just his imaginative grasp of arrangement or sensitive to the moment guitar playing.
They know when to wend their way through the rushes to the sound of a late-night cabaret that suddenly flares (I Cried Your Tears), when to let the blues intersect with jazz and thicken the brew (20 Years A-Growing), and when to give the irregular fluidity of folk its head while remaining tellingly contemporary (Babylon Days).
They are as comfortable in the soul swelling with gospel of Footnotes On The Map – choir and strings let free gloriously, then pulled back in time – as they are in the parched Texan fair of Beautiful Regret; as ready to rise up, in We’ve Run The Distance, with a ‘70s rock band half in thrall to the Stones, half in league with the Staples Singers, as they are to imagine Kate Bush in Laurel Canyon, not waiting for David Crosby, in Catch The Dust.
As with what might be called its sister albums, Lady Blackbird’s still stunning Black Acid Soul and The Art Of Losing by The Anchoress – buy them, trust me – For All Our Days That Tear The Heart is a decidedly old-fashioned record in one sense, in that it is a collection where the songs lead.
He may be a 30-year veteran with collaborations galore (Suede, Duffy, Ben Watt, Catherine Anne Davies), she may be an actor with a background in straight and musical theatre/film and a foreground in subtly complex characters (her Oraetta Mayflower in the most recent series of Fargo still vibrates; her young Leda in The Lost Daughter no way shadowed by Olivia Coleman’s older version), but neither of them seeks to dominate.
However, in that avoidance of centre stage they are rewarded by their individuality emphasised and amplified, like facets of the songs. That’s a win for everyone.
“Whisper to me/I don't want you to leave/And let the rain take me away/Take me away/I'm not afraid of what the river brings to me.”