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Patrick Wolf – “Sundark and Riverlight” Review

Patrick Wolf’s music career has always been a bit under the radar from most people but he has gained a cult following over the ten years. “Sundark and Riverlight” covers songs over his whole career but each song has been rerecorded stripped back to real instruments – mostly guitar and string based.

Disc 1 opens with “Wind in the Wires” which is delicate  and haunting with the strings really keeping a certain creepiness intact. “Oblivion” is just an acoustic guitar and vocal rendition which is a tad too simplistic for my tastes on the guitar front as it holds no power but is certainly a brand new song for your ears compared to the original. “The Libertine” instead fairs much, much better as its pushed by a string quartet based with some Eastern twangs to the lead string. Its dark and the choruses are fantastic – especially when the marching drums hit in. “Vulture” is another song utterly transformed into a brooding piano and vocal track – its almost unrecognisable. It’s great that Patrick is brave enough to sometimes turn things on their head. “Hard Times” is given the Bangla spin with the sumptuous string arrangements brought forward around simple percussion that sounds like a large Bodhran and a dulcimer being brought in for one of my favourite arrangements on the album. “Bitten” takes all the electronic and shares the melodies out over pianos and strings and straddles a strange line between being a full acoustic version and feeling like it really wants drums – but it is still very beautiful. “Overture” (for track 7?) has an epic air punching bass drum to pulse behind the strings, harps and ukes. It doesn’t have the manic drums but it still feels grande and heavy. Disc 1’s closer is “Paris” brings out the harpsichord to join the strings for an upbeat and glorious rendition of the track.

“Together” kicks off disc 2 with an almost Spanish guitar rework of the track with the little fills and trickles of the acoustic guitars. By the time the quartet are in its become something quite serene and floaty. “The Magic Position” has lost none of its sheer glee and rainbow filled happiness although it doesn’t feel quite the same without drums kicking in but its a valid alternative. “Bermondsey Street” transforms into a bluesy double bass and finger clicking good track with a gentle warmth throughout. “Bluebells” has a complex interaction between the harp, accordions and piano and actually feels faster despite its lack of percussion. It’s like its played in waves thanks to the accordions. Its a great fresh twist. Another track utterly transformed is “Teignmouth” which is deliciously dark and feels like a completely brand new track – perfect for this time of year. Sad and spooky. “London” is stripped back to a simple piano melody and is then embellished with various woodwind instruments that push to the fore more over the course of the track. Simple but effective. The woodwind stay for “House” as they continue to to permeate around happy guitars and Patrick’s strong vocal delivery – as it has been throughout with very little if any backing vocals at all. The closer is “Wolf Song” which is actually quite similar to the original but more string focused.

A lot of people complain it seems that Patrick Wolf’s albums are heavily produced and he should strip back his compositions to make them more organic. I don’t agree. I often revel in all the fun nuances he puts in and appreciate them. As a general rule, this album is excellent and shows that his songs can hold up in a more simple format but I for one would be more than happy to have him keep pushing his boundaries and then to do round up acoustic albums like these every 10 years! A must have for fans, not the best starting point for everyone else.

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