Dan Haywood - Dapple (4 stars)

The follow-up to 2010's New Hawks is less musically complex but as lyrically ambitious as ever

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Dan Haywood - Dapple

(Southern Bird Records)

In 2010 adopted Lancastrian and keen ornithologist, Dan Haywood, released his first album – a sprawling three LP gesamtkunstwerk titled New Hawks, centered on his time daundering around the Scottish Highlands. As impressive as the 32-track opus was, the delicate interplay between the violin and lapsteel guitar could sometimes get drowned out by the clatter of the kitchen sink. With each of its ten songs recorded on specially selected days at various locations in the Forest of Bowland in Lancashire, Dapple appears a much more modest affair. Though on closer examination its lyrical complexities, unpredictable song structures and evocation of the genius loci (a rendering of the peculiar atmosphere of the place it was conceived in) are as ambitious as ever.

A typical example of Haywood’s atypical lyrical ability occurs in the opening line of the opening track, ‘The Apple Tree’. As a delicate acoustic guitar emerges from a throng of wren song, the singer coos: ‘I was quite content ‘neath the apple tree/ Kind woman don’t you pick on me/ ‘Cos my Uncle Tom told me fruit was free/ And you paid for something else’.

It’s this subversion of a wistful image with an unexpected rhyme, colloquial wisdom and the suggestion of sexual misadventure that brands Haywood’s work like letters through Brighton rock. On ‘The Apple Tree’, as with many songs on Dapple, the guitar line often follows the contour of the vocal – and above all Haywood has a queer voice. Somewhere between a snarl and a mewl, his phrasing can elongate, hesitate and swoon all in the same line, which invests the images with a sensuality that’s almost tactile. This happens with great effect on 'In the Willows', where a simply plucked six-string gathers around the reprised 'Uncle Thomas' and his 'cold, hard lessons' like scaffolding fashioned from tiny bluebell stems. Instrumentals tracks ‘A Floral Dance’ and ‘Reprise’ act as aromatic sorbets between these jewel-like vignettes.

Although he sites influences ranging from Franz Schubert to The Byrds, Haywood describes Dapple as ‘a love letter to rural England’, and there is something indefatigably English about its collusion of pastoral imagery, self-recrimination and openhearted whimsy, all set to a softly chiming acoustic guitar and the babble of bird song. It’s the all but irretrievable England of John Clare, John Selby and John Dowland, but its spirit finds shelter in Haywood’s remarkable album.     

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