If you live near the Shawlands area on the south side of Glasgow you might have seen Robin Adams striding along, usually with his guitar in bag strapped to his back, his lion’s mane head of hair flowing in the wind, he’s quite a striking sight. Fortunately, he’s quite a striking musician as well with his previous albums gathering a bit of a cult following, similar to that of the late Nick Drake three decades ago when Drake was known to only a few cognoscenti. Reviews of Adams’ previous works have compared him to Drake and John Martyn (the Martyn comparison is odd other than that they share a Glaswegian background) but there are some elements of Drake to be found here. There’s a melancholic feel to the lyrics and a bucolic air in the music but the comparison ends there, to these ears it’s the likes of Roy Harper, Robin Williamson, Bert Jansch and Will Oldfield who come to mind with beguiling melodies and lyrics that can be darkly beautiful.
Adams stares that The Garden was influenced by his thoughts on Vincent Van Gogh, the painter’s struggles with his internal turmoil, his darkness and light. However, the album’s hazy sameness, an almost repetitive search for peace recalls another painter, Monet who captured the likes of Reims Cathedral in different lights at different times of the day trying to capture the illusive nature of light. Monet ended his years obsessively painting his garden at Giverny. As with light so with sounds and Adams, perched in his bedroom overlooking his garden, offers variations on this theme.
Overall The Garden is the sound of one man and his guitar. Occasional harmonica, keyboard, percussion and bass intrude and there’s a cello on one of the songs. A fine guitarist with a wisp of a voice that only occasionally betrays its Glaswegian origin, Adams roots around in the soul of despair. He cites Rimbaud’s description of a soldier’s corpse (Sleeper In The Valley) as inspiration and this is most obvious on the apocalyptic lyrics of Collision Course that closes the album while the opening song, The Garden is full of foreboding with spilled blood fuelling the garden’s growth. Paint Me The Day is almost iridescent as Adams sings of “burning red skies over fields of gold flowing like rivers of colour all born from your soul.” Packed full of beautiful metaphors it’s a powerful plea for love. Throughout the album Adams displays a fantastic poetic bent, his words paint pictures, impressionistic, not story telling but allied to the slight Americana touch in Keep Me or the naked guitar lines of Troubled Skies he is riveting, demanding a replay to properly savour the songs. The Garden isn’t an album to put on as background music, it demands and repays close attention and the rewards are there with Street a magnificent meditation on the fragility of the human condition. With the devastating opening lines “your heart is made of paper, your life is made of glass so beware of those who reach for you” delivered over a rippling guitar that recalls Arthur Lee’s Love on Forever Changes, the end result is sublime. Meanwhile Need Not Turn is perhaps the best song Will Oldham hasn’t yet written.
The Garden is a wonderful listen for those who delve into the nooks and crannies of a songwriter’s mind, it flows, brackish and dark perhaps, but seeking an outlet.
Robin Adams is launching the album at Glasgow’s Glad Cafe on Saturday 4th April.