The ten songs on this exceptional album are personal and accessible yet also enigmatic and impressionistic. The words are not overtly confessional but nevertheless convey deeply felt emotions.
The two longer songs that close the album transform the record from good to great. On these the influence of Jeff Buckley is most evident both in terms of lyrical content and vocal delivery.
Almond tells the story of a relationship, from the heady excitement of the first meeting to the heartbreak of drifting apart. Even more moving is Green where the singer is torn between nostalgia for happier moments and the instinct to let bygones be bygones expressed in the bittersweet refrain: “I should have written all this down, I forget it all now.”
Stephen Fretwell describes this album as “a song cycle of sorts”. It examines the seasons of his own life, exploring fatherhood, grief and rebirth. Most of it was written in the British Library and the London setting is specific in the titles Oval and Embankment.
The tenderness of the former turns out to be deceptive. Fretwell says ”I wrote the song about watching my wife look out of the window in that flat in Oval, looking at her new life as a mother, our new life as parents, and I was trying to show that in some way the beauty that we are gifted by becoming parents is often haunted by the loss of something, too.”
The contrast between celebration and disappointment is a recurring theme throughout the record. ”Where did the fun go?” he asks rhetorically in Copper and in The Long Water reflects how ” time changes everything.”
Fretwell, now approaching his 40s, grew up in Scunthorpe and began playing in Manchester in the early noughties. He made two moderately successful albums- Magpie (2004) and Man on the Roof (2007) - which garnered much praise from bands such as Elbow, Arctic Monkeys and Oasis.
Parenthood changed everything. As Fretwell notes: “I didn’t come up for air until my son started school, by which time we had another son. I just forgot about song writing. I didn’t even own a guitar for five years.” His decision to return to music making after a layoff of well over a decade came at a cost. The intense focus on its production proved too much of a strain on an already collapsing marriage.
The whole album was recorded at Dean Street Studios in Soho in just two hours. Fretwell says “I assumed it was the run-through. I was so fired up, I just rattled off the songs”. Producer Dan Carey added on a few overdubs but rightly adjudged that these songs were best heard with sparse and uncluttered arrangements.
Beginning with the wintry lament of The Goshawk and the Gull and culminating in emotional finale of Green, this album packs quite a punch in just 36 minutes. On a personal level, Fretwell sacrificed a lot to make this record but in purely musical terms it was well worth it.