Gwyneth Moreland – Cider
There’s a real sense of closeness and family informing the ten songs on Gwyneth Moreland’s album Cider. It even extends to the instruments – Moreland’s primary guitar on the album was built by her brother. Moreland’s husband contributed to the songwriting in discreet but significant ways and the sense of inspiration powering the songs is a tangible presence. Much of the warmth is surely derived from Moreland’s inherent empathy as a veterinarian technician, but her family is full of artists and creativity of various sorts is woven into her DNA. The songwriting on the album has a serious bent, but it also sounds connected with human emotions that redeem even its darkest moments. She’s well served by an outstanding crew of collaborators both in the production booth and in the studio – among them, steel guitarist Gene Parsons and producer David Hayes. These various factors come together to result in one of the year’s best folk-oriented releases.
You can’t really identify one overriding influence on these songs, but there are some comfortable reference points. The title “Movin’ On”, Cider’s first track, will certainly resonate with longtime folk and country music devotees. Fidelity to the past aligned to a strong sense of self is one of the defining elements making this release what it is and few songs better illustrate it. The pace is easy to love and Moreland’s lyrics and singing alike are a perfect fit. “Broken Road” is a much more withdrawn, careful piece and the ruminative nature of the lyrics is a characteristic we’ll encounter more as things progress. There’s nothing melodramatic about it, however, and her musical arrangement are always mindful of giving the song a chance to breathe freely. There’s a nice, low-key swing to the song courtesy of former Frank Zappa drummer Ralph Humprey.
“Farmhouse” and “Eloise” could scarcely be more different in temperament. There’s something pastoral and soft-edged about the first song while the minor key inclinations of the latter are invoked with much more subtlety and a less uniform attention to the song’s individual parts. Few songwriters are so able to moving from the direct to a more nuanced approach and her vocals keep a consistent focus on the needs of each song. She finds another peak on the album with her performance of “The California Zephyr” and its one of the most evocative, yet loving, songs you’ll hear from Gwyneth Moreland. The mood darkens again for the late song “Danny Parker” and this third single from Cider will leave you slightly dazed with wonder. Moreland often proves herself to be a dazzling blend of musician and storyteller on this release and few of the songs mixes those moments succeeds more than this one. She returns to more delicate, poetically colored territory on the song “Cider” – Gene Parsons’ pedal steel is particularly important to the musical success of this one. There’s a slight twist in her musical color coming with the last track “Summer Song”. Moreland clearly aspires to write great lines, song in song out, and her style is so carefully calibrated that she never wastes a word. This summation embodies that better than most songs on Cider. Few collections are as well rounded as this song and it has an entertaining progression that will leave few listeners unsatisfied.
9 out of 10 stars