J Richardson 🇫🇮 - ‘The Pine and the Birch’ (Album)
I really am going to try and keep reviews brief, but I know already that by doing so I won’t be doing the artists and their albums quite the credit they deserve. That’s especially true of the new album courtesy of J Richardson, a Finnish based songwriter, who was born in the UK but decided that the peaceful woods and valleys outside Helsinki were a far more favourable place to spend his time. I can hardly blame him.
Anyway ‘The Pine and the Birch’ is such a stunning album that I’m left utterly bewildered over where J Richardson has been all this time (aside from hiding in Finnish forests), why he doesn’t have far more of a profile either in Finland or in the UK and why he won’t tell us his 1st name. I’m just going to guess it’s Jethro.
The album opens with ‘After Dark’, and with no attempt at an intro it’s the soft melody and striking lyrics that immediately hit home: “she gave me her cup, she said one tablespoon is rarely if ever enough”. Throughout the album those words just melt into the instrumentation, as if they were just meant to be together. And if you think from the opening that it might just all be a little too sedate, just wait and listen to how the track builds, with that melodic intensity maintained into ‘Stolen Song’, 7 minutes of richly textured instrumentation mixed with a gorgeous subtlety in the musical phrasing.
But it’s ‘On Vision’ that’s the stand out track, beguiling minimalist rhythms set the scene, a saxophone offers distant accompaniment and the song grows with intertwined melodies, a developing sense of urgency, quite grand arrangements yet always likeable catchy tunes. It’s 8 minutes of wonder, a track so darn near perfect that I’m not sure I can think of anything as good since Major Parkinson released an entire album of perfection with their ‘Blackbox’ in 2017.
After such a weighty track it probably needs a contrast, and ‘Look up’ offers that, and at this point it’s possibly the right time to start delving into the ‘supporting cast’ of musicians singing and playing alongside Mr Richardson, Anna-Elena Pääkkölä offering a lovely contrast in this song with Jaakko Martikainen’s saxophone sounding fabulous across the album. In fact there is not one wasted note from the entire ensemble - take the lovely arrangements in ‘The Dry Valleys’ courtesy of Kaapo Huttunen, another 9 minute composition that I really can’t do justice to in less than 30 words.
‘The Wind’ almost has a simplicity to it, with a gorgeous melody, but the instrumentation and soft vocal duet literally will carry you away in the wind above the forests and lakes, whilst concluding track ‘Mabon’ has a catchy optimism to it - and again, just listen to the lyrics, the background contributions from the ensemble and the quite beautiful musical phrasing.
Normally at this stage I try and point out the downsides of an album, or at least why not everyone might find favour with a release. But there is no reason why you won’t like ‘The Pine and the Birch’. The beauty of this album is in the detail, handcrafted instrumentation, packed full of musical and lyrical ideas, with vast influences which I’m guessing include folk, rock, progressive, classical, minimalist and possibly even 1970’s Cornish comedians. And what I love in particular is that there is so much within this album that I’m yet to discover, appreciate and then simply cherish. It’s utterly marvellous.
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The album was released through Longfield Lane Records, and there was a CD version released with a bonus track on 31st August. I'll await the super deluxe vinyl version.