Head In The Trees, Heart On The Ground (Preservation)
Kell Derrig-Hall’s ensemble, Singing Skies, is generally referred to as a kind of folk, or downbeat pop outfit.
His wavering voice and the airy atmosphere in which the songs exist maybe even give it the appearance of some art/alternative scene – the kind where fragility in technique and a certain sadness verging on grimness is afforded special status as deeper, truer than the rest.
With the first Singing Skies album I was hardly the first and certainly not the last to have made a connection with Leonard Cohen too: sombre self-reflections; piquant observations of others; minimalist arrangements; a less than Australian Idol-friendly voice.
There’s another Cohen connection that’s become much clearer on this lengthily titled but actually quite short (34 minutes) second album: like city boy Leonard, Derrig-Hall’s real home feels like country music.
Superficially that can be attributed to guitars which can sometimes sound caught between pedal and National steel, and modest trot tempos, of the kind which Emmylou Harris came to own.
Mostly though it’s in the feeling of space opening up ahead, like stepping out the door of a small house out the back of nowhere and seeing nothing til the far horizon.
And a sense that loneliness is an unspoken partner, if not the constant companion.
Songs tend to begin as interiors, Derrig-Hall almost murmuring meditations, regrets, and sometimes imprecations, into his beard.
There’s a skimmed drum here, a low temperature guitar or spare piano over there, maybe a ghostly voice in the background, wafting up from the floorboards possibly.
Then, subtly songs reveal more and take on more: the guitars come to the fore more, the energy rises gently, the tone firmer. The press of walls and ceiling begin to withdraw too and his imperfect voice steps forward to explore with a degree of confidence.
It’s not a shift into optimism or anything as rash as that – heavens no.
Mountains may suggest peaks but it’s more like travels through emotional lowlands, and Future Come – which surges into something almost like noise midway through - likewise may suggest grasping the new with excitement but is more about letting go of the old with reluctance.
But whether it’s Taken By The Wind rising on warm air, Nowhere gently hoping and “waiting for the sunrise in your eyes” or the Holly Throsby-like Summer making the acceptance of time to leave a virtue, Singing Skies is able to skim the darkest hours.