Stacey McNeill and Jonathan Smith “Leaving Autumn Town” (Independent, 2020)

The title of Stacey McNeill and Jonathan Smith’s EP sets the musical tone.  It would be surprising to find power ballads and squealing guitar solos in a collection of music called `Leaving Autumn Town’ and indeed these songs are restrained and thoughtful; the embodiment of less is more. Composed and produced during lockdown with McNeill and Smith over 50 miles apart, these pieces concentrate on voices and delicate fingerstyle guitar.  There is the occasional addition of soft guitar lines, keyboard and drums; but the overall feel is of a duo playing the last numbers at a folk club and sending the audience home with a unique glow.

There is a recurring motif of nature throughout the EP with `Last Leaf’ including mayflowers, dragonflies and warm winds.  `Between the Lines’ is a love song that seems made for the signing of the wedding register.  It is a compliment to say it is reminiscent of that other duo, The Civil Wars, and has a beautifully judged intonation of the chorus by McNeill.  The flip side of love is represented in `Winds of Change’; the story of a couple resigned to estrangement.   In `Brave Spirit’ McNeill sings a testimony to past generations and those with a “..kind heart, fierce mind and brave spirit”.

The final song, `The Secret Gardener’, is a portrayal of creative artists as people who work quietly and doggedly to nurture and grow their work.  It is an apt metaphor for a duo who have the ability to produce music that sounds like an afternoon in a garden during an Indian summer; and who doesn’t want to be there?

Harmonious melodies with gentle guitar

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