Martin England & the Reconstructed
Martin England & the Reconstructed stand atop collective experience of thousands of live performances and nearly two dozen studio recordings. With Dawn Chorus, England and his band have crafted an album in the spirit of traditional long playing records; individual songs set together as a cohesive statement, each inviting you into the next in a way that you barely realize, and suddenly you've consumed the whole thing. It is a complete art piece, thematically consistent in it's patience, pace and maturity.
The lyrical content dances back and forth over the notion of necessity for positive human interaction, with recurring reference to various aspects of nature. There is a decidedly New England feel here: Humanity and Nature, nudged together in a discussion of human nature and delivered with old Yankee stubborn determination; if we could just wait out the cold, people might stop being so horrible to each other and eventually greet the warmer spring.
Journeyman bassist Andrew Russell is never the weakest link of any musical project he's involved in. The years of experience have resulted in an intuitive placement of runs and riffs, but Russell is most impressive when he's peddling away with a pick, and it's how he introduces himself on Unloaded, the first track.
That low end meshes with Sean Daniels' drums to create a rhythm synergy that pumps and shuffles and punctuates the lyric and musical soundscape layered over it. Daniels' prowess is proven by the percussion performance on this record; he has the chops, but also the intangible 'feel'. His drum beds shift smoothly behind Russell's bass, and with that foundation solidly set, the electric guitars and keys are free to focus on texture and color, and less on supporting rhythm.
The acoustic guitar performances are shared by England and Courtney Brocks, with Brocks also handling tastefully understated banjo textures. Her backing vocals are featured prominently on the record, and the importance of that contribution must not be overlooked. What is compelling about Martin England's voice has always been the honesty and conviction of the performance, and his complete understanding of capabilities and limitations of it. He isn't going to capture your attention with vocal gymnastics and impressive range. What Brocks does is compliment an excellent vocal storyteller by filling in around a unique tenor with her smooth alto, the combination being at times triumphant, at others heartbreakingly beautiful.
Jesse Dold answers the conversation with complimentary commentative riffs that are drenched in luscious tone. The sound of the electric guitars on Dawn Chorus is simply spectacular. For Jesse Dold, the entire album is an impressive sonic achievement. In addition to his guitar performances, Dold receives credit for engineering, producing and mixdown at his own Ghost Mill Studios. The definition and clarity of each instrument, voice or sound and their wide placement in the stereo spectrum without it all becoming disjointed is stunning. That he is able to maintain that spacial definition through the massive shift in dynamic of the songs Caspian and Dark Like Ink is absolutely triumphant. Those two tracks are heavily laden with somber tone, but Dold salvages the mood with a moment of arrangement and production mastery where England and Brocks' voices are stripped of all effects and are set honest and bare against a solitary piano and distant cymbal bell, intentionally capturing the listener's attention for the final minute of the album's capstone, Everyone Deserves This Kind of Love. There can be no doubt that Dawn Chorus will serve Jesse Dold well as a representative statement of the capability of Ghost Mill for a very long time.
To be sure, Dawn Chorus is a long album, with a number of tracks clocking over 6 minutes. Even so, there isn't a time when the extended instrumentals feel self indulgent. Dark Like Ink needs all of the 8:35 to complete the tale, and Moonbeam carries through to the 4th second of the seventh minute with heart shattering beauty. The smallest criticism might be found in there being an absence of just one track that shakes off measured patience and pushes it to the edge of chaos, but that's only because of the band's musical kinetic ability. In the era of downloadable singles where the titles are followed by "Feat. (some individual artist)" England and his Reconstructed band have delivered a refreshing treat and a reminder that albums can still be WHOLE things.