“There are some familiar troubadour flavours here, but Stratton transforms them into something more unexpected and quite magical,” The Guardian
Bella Union is thrilled to release Will Stratton’s album Rosewood Almanac, the American’s debut for the label. It’s a work of fragile magic, a hypnotic combination of beautifully breathy voice and exquisite lyrical imagery, gorgeous melodies and similarly soft-spun instrumentation, centred on his thrumming acoustic guitar and the verdant presence of velvet strings.
Stratton’s arrival ends what Bella Union boss Simon Raymonde calls, “a very long search.” Inspired by the female songwriters he’d signed, such as Holly Macve, Sumie and Marissa Nadler, he’d “struggled to find a male artist that I could truly be excited about, that was at least the equal of the above… Someone of the calibre of Robin Pecknold, of Elliott Smith, of Cass McCombs, Nick Drake and Justin Vernon.” Then, on a restless, sleepless night, Raymonde went online, “like a rabbit hole when you’re trawling at that time of night. All of a sudden, I found Will’s last album Gray Lodge Wisdom, and then it was 4am and I was listening to an earlier record of his, Post Empire. I finally slept at 6am, extremely tired but also euphoric.”
Born in California, mostly raised in New Jersey and currently an upstate New Yorker, this great-grandson of a travelling preacher started songwriting and recording while at high school, before going on to study philosophy and music composition. He’s self-released work, and via a couple of tiny indies (one being Talitres in France) but extended treatment for cancer put everything on hold. After his successful recovery, Stratton decided to leave New York City for the Hudson Valley. Teaching (music, art, video) at a local boarding school, while living on campus as a dorm ‘parent’, left little time for musical ambition, though he had never stopped making music. But having left teaching, everything’s come together for the finest record of his life. Bella Union’s timing was impeccable.
Rosewood Almanac was named after Stratton’s current pride and joy: his acoustic guitar. “The guitars I love most tend to be rosewood, they have a crystalline tone, but also a really dark heft. When Bob Dylan was obsessed with his ‘wild thin mercury sound’, that’s the sound of rosewood to me. It’s almost menacing in its precision.”
He developed an intimate relationship with guitar after discovering Nick Drake, whose “fluid, effortlessly beautiful style,” led on to similarly cherished Britfolk icons – Sandy Denny, Richard Thompson, Anne Briggs, Bert Jansch. But Stratton’s studies led to chamber music, and minimalists Steve Reich and Terry Riley, which equally influenced his simultaneously complex and direct sound. His love of composition shines through when he talks of how a specific guitar tuning – “like learning a new language, with its own rules to obey”- can influence the writing of a song, “just as how you set up the stanzas and metres can dictate what you end up saying in your lyrics.” Yet there’s no trace of dry academia or virtuosity here, only a fluid, effortless beauty, with a matching emotional heft.
“a deeply assured and ambitious collection of prismatic folk tunes that should possess emotional weight even for listeners who don’t know Stratton’s backstory… The best album of his career.”
“A classically trained virtuosity, an incontestable erudition and remarkable precocity.” Post Empire, La Blogotheque
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Jon Wilks writes about folk music and performs it when people let him. The songs he performs are chosen via the Folk from the Attic series on this blog, in which he explores a traditional song through performance and research. His live shows are an amusing mix of folk song performance and conversation, throwing in tidbits of weird and wonderful information about the original singers and collectors that he has come across during his research.