Winter Mountain's debut album was released in 2013 and rapidly became one of my favourite albums of the year and one which I still play regularly now. What I liked most about the music was the tight harmonies of the duo, very reminiscent of Simon & Garfunkel, all supported by delightful acoustic guitars. I described it at the time as West Coast American music with more than a passing resemblance to the Eagles and America!
Some months ago I heard that the duo of Joe Francis and Martyn Smith were splitting up although Joe was going to continue under the original name. Bearing in mind that my passion is for harmony and in particular this genre of music I was seriously concerned to hear how it would work as a solo act. Well, I had no need to worry. The new album is just as good as the debut and if anything has a slightly more edgy sound to it thanks to Joe's, at times, gritty voice. Joe writes all the songs, plays acoustic and electric guitar, bass, harmonica and mandolin. A veritable one man band!
Joe is supported on the new album by a number of top class musicians including Seth Lakeman. Joe also produced the album so he cannot complain if the end result is not exactly how he wanted it to sound.
There is one odd thing about the forthcoming issue of the album. It comes just a few weeks after the release of an EP which I had already bought before I received the album to review. The three songs on the EP are all on the full length album but it could be argued, from a promotional viewpoint, that this could be a good taster for those potential purchasers who are not familiar with the work of Winter Mountain. Take a listen to "The Morning Bell" if you want to check it out before purchase.
The music is mostly soft and gentle with thoughtful lyrics and some sublime backing. Joe has a voice that is equally at home with a fast driving number or a slow romantic late night "glass of wine" melody. The best two examples of Joe's ability to change moods and styles comes with the upbeat "Sunlight Good Roads" which could have come straight from the Grand Ole Opry showcase and the stunningly beautiful "Dragonfly." This fabulous song with its simple but effective acoustic guitar intro and cello accompaniment just makes me shiver and is a song that Paul Simon at his best would be proud of. It also has outstanding lyrics to make it almost the perfect song for my taste in music. A seamless cross between the aforementioned S&G and CSN&Y.
Joe, or Winter Mountain, has already supported a number of stars to date including Seal, Richard Thomson, Cara Dillon, Leanne Rhymes and Paolo Nutini but Joe now deserves to be the headline act.
This type of music will not appeal to all tastes. It is neither folk, nor country, nor rock, but it is exactly the type of music that suits my musical preference down to the ground and which I could listen to all day long. In fact I have been! To copy the title of a fairly well known TV show, it is "Absolutely Fabulous.".
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