This is another impressive set of songs, created with care, that grow richer with time as the character of each songs reveals itself. What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
Label: www.yvonnelyonmusic.com, https://yvonnelyon.bandcamp.com/
Time: 12 tracks / 45 mins
It feels like I have been on a journey with Yvonne Lyon. I was underwhelmed by her support act to Iona a few years ago (although I may just have been impatient for the main band). However, since her superb Metanoia collection, her well-judged Songs for Christmas album that shows how to avoid the banana skins so prevalent in that genre, as well as her work on Vesper Sky, an inventive spoken-word-and-music project with Stewart and Carol Henderson, I actively look forward to her new work.
Similarly, this release has been a grower with me. Initially I was disappointed that there were no instant “Wow!” songs – such as Metanoia’s “Where the Poor Find Gold” – and the production felt much safer than that album, but successive listens have unearthed a tranche of details laid around skilfully crafted songs.
The quote she sets inside the cover asks, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” and sets the tone for much of its content. She revealed in a recent interview with poet/pastor (and erstwhile Tollbooth contributor) Steve Stockman that she has been suffering from mild depression for a while and that this collection is her way of taking a mid-life crisis and trying to distil those experiences into something beautiful.
That fragility and a spirit sensitive to the poor and hurting has always characterised her music, but she can’t have expressed it any more clearly that in the coping song “Enough.”
“You wake up trying to make sense of the world
But the weight of it all has already unfurled in your bones...
When you come face to face with a shadow so strong
That you barely know how to just keep holding on...
Sometimes just breathing in is enough.”
She does a similar thing in “Illuminate,” where the internal rhymes reflect her poetic sensibility:
“Most of us are weirdos and some we wax and wane
And so we work a little harder just trying to stay sane.”
The latter is one of two tracks that clearly show the beauty she aims for, particularly reminding me of Michelle Tumes’ gorgeously ethereal voice as she sings the title, the other being “Insignificant as Stars.”
“Insignificant as Stars” is one of those lyrics that deal with living, drifting and then coming back to the start afresh – as T. S Eliot famously put it, “The end of all our exploring / will be to arrive where we started / and know the place for the first time.” She writes of time breathing and of “intimate sighs,” and her singing reflects that delicacy.
But there are bolder songs here too. Opener “Winter Ground,” a lively piece about migrating birds, is mandolin-led and fresh. This album’s main earworm is the poppy title track, whose sound reflects the celebratory spirit so prevalent in Liverpool poet Stewart Henderson’s work: “So let’s waste our days on living and our love will be our lives / in the riot and relief of growing wild.” His wordplay binds together the ideas of plants boldly daring to push through cracks in concrete and the spirit that looks for ways to expand life as days go on, rather than shrinking into comfort.
“We Accumulate the Years” is his other lyric, a reflective song that looks back over life (a thread in his recent work, noticeably in Vesper Sky). Lyon’s regular production team of Sandy Jones and Wet Wet Wet’s Graeme Duffin bring that tone out in their soundscape, with cello more prominent, as it is in several pieces. Across the disc, their nuanced touch employs a sound bed that suits each song; sometimes with subtle electronica, sometimes piano arpeggios, sometimes fiddle – and they even give a welcome space to upright bassist Kev McGuire on the title track.
Some of the strongest tracks are purely Lyon’s own work, but she has also collaborated with several fellow songwriters, including Julie Lee and Nashville guitarist Dan Wheeler on “Winter Ground.”
“Back to Love,” her collaboration with Beth Nielsen Chapman, is highly confident. Some electric guitar emphasis adds a touch of Americana as it rolls along fluidly, describing a relationship at a point of tension. The line, “We’re the king and queen of contradictions / like a scream inside a whisper” pulls you in like dust into a vacuum cleaner.
These co-writes might not be better than Lyon’s own fare, but they do add a change of style, not least Boo Hewerdine’s well-written “A Bigger Heart,” which brings a subtle retro vibe reminiscent of the one his “Remembering” gave to Dan Whitehouse on Dreamland Tomorrow.
“Compass Hill” features Eddi Reader on backing vocals. Sounding almost traditional in its natural, singalong chorus, it would have been one of the best tracks on several of her latest releases.
With songs as strong as these, a track like the yearning “Chasing the Silence” – a flowing joint effort with Dan Wheeler – can drift into the background, but it still earn its place keenly.
Altogether, this is another impressive set of songs, created with care, that grow richer with time as the character of each songs reveals itself.