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 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 Elliott Smith, Cass McCombs and Justin Vernon.”
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 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 also to chamber music, and minimalists Steve Reich and Terry Riley, which equally influenced his simultaneously complex and direct sound.
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.”
The album’s spell weaves over a contained ten songs and 34 minutes, from the extra crystalline sparkle via the addition of electric guitar and rhythm section in the opening ‘Light Blue’, to the pared back voice-and-rosewood effect of the closing ‘Ribbons’. Having listened intently to Leonard Cohen and Hank Williams, “singers who try to wring as much meaning out of every sound they’re making, in correspondence to every other sound,” Stratton has focused his singing and lyric-writing more than ever before. “Some words are political, some are imagistic, some are personal,” he vouches.
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