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The Living Mountain
(2020 - Hudson Records - EU)
Some artists keep reaching new heights, some start above the clouds, and Jenny Sturgeon has done both. I have had the pleasure of owning and listening to all her physical releases so I speak as witness to her special gift for penning so many wondrous songs, but also for her taste in choosing covers and collaborations over the years.
'The Living Mountain' is respectfully inspired by a book of the same title by Nan Shepherd. The tunes are at once subtle with a trance-like state and rich with an innocent beauty that may get lost in the future if musicians like Jenny do not offer us such works. Most nature book lovers have a type religious experience upon reading the Nan Shepherd book, and I predict the same applies to listeners of Sturgeon's 2nd full length album (this one on Hudson Records). Her earlier recordings are 'Source To Sea' (EP - 2014), her 2016 debut album 'From the Skein', and 4 song beauty 'The Wren and The Salt Air' (2017), which was a commission from the National Trust for Scotland that marked 30 years of Hebridean island St Kilda as a World Heritage Site for nature. Sturgeon was raised in Aberdeenshire,Scotland and has performed with the band Salt House, collaborated with Ingre Thomson on a audio visual environmental project called 'Northern Flyway' and is an accomplished multi-instrumentalist. She also has a degree in ecology. You soon learn that Jenny has been involved with nature for many years.
With a large ensemble to contribute on various compositions, the band is: Jenny Sturgeon (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonium, dulcimer, whistle, synth, field recordings)/ Grant Anderson (vocals, bass)/ Mairi Campbell (viola, vocals)/ Su-a Lee (cello)/ Jez Riley (French field recordings on tracks 5 and 7)/ Magnus Robb & The Sound Approach (field recordings on track 8)/ and Andy Bell who recorded, mixed and produced the album (also on synth, percussion, vocals). The listener is invited into a very intimate world and often one that takes you far away from the toxic earth we now trod in. From the start the music has a calm but enchanting feel. Once you get to 'Frost and Snow' (track #5), you are entangled in the magical web.
Never overdone, the arrangements are pristine and production by Andy Bell is spot on. With such a suave voice and playing style, Sturgeon brings about echoes of a more simplistic Joni Mitchell but keeps a firm identity of her own. She has a strong foot in traditional Scottish folk, robust in the skill of haunting airs and ballads, tunes that force fond memories and thought provoking emotions that will indeed get stirred among the songs. That you can count on, less you be dead. A recording so touching, it prodded this writer to go buy and read the Nan Shepherd book to see more into this vision. I suggest the same to you my kind readers.
Breathe in the majesty of 'The Senses' (track #11) and 'Being' (final cut) with that babbling brook that leaves you with an honest peace. The physical format of CD comes in a beautiful tri-fold digipak with great booklet that contains all the lyrics and some striking art, along with additional information. This album is the one that has reached new heights that were already above the clouds. A TOP CHOICE for 2020 on my list. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
©Reviewed by Lee Henderson 11 - 20 - 2020
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