A lockdown collection of melancholy introspection with a compelling new musical addition.
For his 12th album, ‘Journey To The Sun’ Peter Bruntnell offers profoundly contemplative, lucid songwriting that is melodically rich and beautifully produced. If anyone can capture the isolation and introspection brought about by months of lockdown Bruntnell can. He plays most of the instruments with the valuable keyboard contribution from Iain Sloan and Peter Linnane, who also engineered the album, and long-time co-writer Bill Ritchie. Two notable additions are Bruntnell’s recently acquired synthesiser and a bouzouki. Fear not, he has not gone prog but returns to his customary bleak analysis of the human condition with emphasis on regret, death and longing. Once again we ask ourselves why is Peter Bruntnell, one of the finest exponents of Americana this side of the pond, not more widely recognised for his consistent genius?
Bruntnell wastes little time in putting his new toys to great effect. A distant echoing bazouki to opener ‘Dandelion’ makes way for his familiar rasp as he rues, “those who thought time could be bought, are sleeping underground” accompanying the chill warning, “We are not too young to die.” The tempo is suitably funereal.
A cheerier sounding synth starts off ‘Lucifer Morning Star’, complemented by a gentle acoustic strum that creates a lighter pop vibe to mask deeper feelings of guilt and blame. The relentlessness of ‘Runaway Car’, urges an escape from endless past mistakes, “you’ve got to run while you still can/making the same mistakes over and over again”. The synth swirls into a guitar solo that sounds very CSNY.
The album contains two instrumentals and one cover. A writer of Bruntnell’s ability does not need to pad out his records because there is certainly not a dud track here. Rather the instrumentals offer a break from the bleakness of the lyrics, Both ‘The Antwerp Effect’ and ‘Moon Committee’ are short, slightly hypnotic interludes, each a Brian Eno moment perhaps? Everyone knows ‘Wild Mountain Thyme’ to which Bruntnell gives a wistful sheen.
The album’s title appears in ‘Heart of Straw’ where “flowers and sweet salutations will be sent by some/ for a vague but necessary journey to the sun”. The breaks between verses only amplify the layers of remorse.
Bruntnell gives full vent to his new synth on ‘You’d Make A Good Widow’ with a cosmic intro that would do justice to Hawkwind. From that flourish emerges a more typical rendition of Bruntnell’s Americana, reflective and very dark. ‘Merrion’ is another superb example of his craft. Again, there is an underlying menace, not towards anyone in particular but more self-critical. Orchestral layers and harmonies give ‘Dharma Liar’ a hymnal quality while ’Waiting For Clive’ is the album’s nadir, not in terms of quality but mood. Closing out this gem of a record is ‘Mutha’, whose gentler piano line suggests happier times to come or is that wishful thinking?
Peter Bruntnell is a songwriter eminently qualified to probe the lockdown psyche and on ‘Journey To The Sun’ he mines deep seams of contrition. Is it too much to hope that, finally, this record might bring him the long-overdue recognition he deserves?