Richard Youngs: May

Richard Youngs follows up Sapphie and Making Paper with a third collection of unearthly minimalist folk songs. This time the album is shorter (a perfectly formed 36 minutes) and the songs less meandering than before, but there is no change in Youngs’ ability to hold the listener in rapt contemplation. There are six songs, starkly arranged for acoustic guitar and voice. Youngs’ strong, confident playing communicates a sense of pastoral longing and quietude, as in the slipping refrain of ‘Trees That Fall’ and the hypnotic, slowly turning phrase of ‘Wynding Hills of Maine’.

The lyrics are allusive, intensely solipsistic texts in which certain key terms – all/call/fall, bloom/dream/wynd – are combined and recombined in various permutations. This is far from being the sterile exercise it may sound. As with the novels and plays of Samuel Beckett, there is a distinctly formal rigour to the layout of the texts, and from that formalism comes a sense of mutability and return to the source. Cyclicality, and in particular seasonal change, are evoked in Youngs’ wistful imagery of blooming, fall and winter.

Youngs’ voice has a strained, yearning quality that permeates the songs and transforms them into bleak transmissions from a hermetic environment. It is this sense of a mind struggling to impose a structure on a world slipping out of control that enables Youngs to sidestep the obvious Nick Drake and Bert Jansch influences and turns May into a work of rare beauty and passion.

(Originally published in The Sound Projector 11, 2003)

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