Whitehouse is much more than a folk artist and this proper double album shows two aspects of his talent.
Label: Reveal Records
Time: 12 + 10 tracks / 39 + 35mins
Is Dan Whitehouse the David Bowie of folk? His voice often has the same timbre, but he also has a similar sensitivity to moods, strong songwriting talent and flippant approach to genre, letting songs find their own sound, rather than force them into a style for the sake of it.
This is a proper double album; it is two separate discs (Dreamland and Tomorrow), rather than one long album in two parts. The first twelve tracks are produced by label boss Tom Rose, who adds in some very dreamy textures and moods. Omnipresent folk journeyman Boo Hewerdine produces the second set, its emphasis more on the lyrics and less on the sonics.
Highlights appear from the start, where “Dreamland” creates the sort of atmosphere suggested by the title. From the simple piano riff – based on an old fairground tune – to the vocal phrasing, he knows just where to put the accents on both the piano notes and lyrics. “Glass” is a striking song hung between its basic, insistent riff and the subtle work overlaid on top. The brief next track exudes tenderness as Whitehouse sings, “Beauty is making someone you love care less about tomorrow.” The disc ends with a highly vibey seven minutes: a brief reprise of “Dreamland,” letting the delicate piano line float in space and leaving off the vocals to keep the atmosphere fragile, before “What I didn’t See” continues the mood, fuelled by reverse guitars, reverb and lacework improvisation around its theme.
Two points might niggle: the piano riff on “Glass” could have been mixed lower to let the dreamier parts feature more; and the title of “Remembering” also gets a bit repetitive. Otherwise, this is one that I keep playing for its mood: the first disc in turns dreamy, delicate, edgy and hurt; the second more direct in its storytelling.
The lyrics here are often poetic and impressionistic, but there are more transparent songs, such as “State of the English,” which rails at “The lies, the guilt, the shame, the risk, the hurt, the waste” of Brexit Britain, noting that it is, “A country divided, when in the end we’ll all remain.” That tone is typical, echoed in “Fighting for Air,” which uses the image of thick fog to describe a more personal situation: “The smog crept in and sucked the air out of the future / These days it isn’t easy to just walk across the street / I’m right back where I started from, can’t even see my feet / I didn’t know where I was – days passed by / for warmth I burned my bridges down.”
The simpler-sounding Tomorrow disc covers a couple of true stories, such as “Teach You How to Fly.” The lyrics describe a girl with an aerial tendency: “By the age of 3 she was climbing trees, never stopping to think she was anything less than free.” The song was inspired by a BBC documentary about Illinois acrobat Jennifer Bricker who was born without legs, but a gymnastics champion by the age of 11. Her inspiration was Olympic gold medal winner Dominique Moceanu. Astoundingly, Bricker discovered that she had been adopted when only a few months old, and Moceanu was her sister.
Whitehouse is much more than a folk artist and has let his producers give him more sonic variety than the average singer-songwriter. If you want to catch him at his best, try his Silk Mill Sessions and enjoy superb performances of some of the strongest tracks on this collection.