Blabber’n’Smoke first encountered Scots musician Fraser Anderson when he reissued his album Little Glass Box back in 2014. That album featured the legendary Danny Thompson on double bass inviting inevitable comparisons to the late John Martyn. True, Anderson had some of Martyn’s blend of folk jazz and blues about him but his songs raised him far beyond any such comparison. At the time of recording Anderson was living in France with his family but in 2014 he relocated to Bristol and set about recording Under The Cover Of Lightness. The result is an album that sees him travel further into the tenebrous world of folk jazz; burbling bass, woody cello and supple guitar work all entwined with keyboard, accordion and violin adding colour, his voice with a slight Scots accent an instrument in itself. There’s less of a pastoral feel this time around, the songs darker at times, Anderson reflecting on life love and loss.
Some of these songs are truly beautiful but Anderson quests further throughout the album exploring other avenues, his new life in Bristol reflected perhaps in the Portishead like reverie of Beautiful Eyes and the street rap of With You All motored by an insistent urban beat. This exploration reaches its apogee on the techno beats of Go On Wide (Part 1), a jarring explosion of keyboards and synthed percussion with Anderson’s vocals reverberating. It’s an audacious number in relation to its neighbours (in particular the languid liquid guitar work of Go On Wide (Part 2) which follows), the two songs a yin and yang pairing of a tumultuous relationship perhaps.
It’s a presumption of course but the album seems to chart Anderson’s life, the opening sumptuous horn and organ fuelled Simple Guidance a young lover’s dizzying ascent into romance, hindsight allowing that perhaps it happened all too soon but the singer has no regrets. Beautiful Eyes is a Parisian dawn tale, the heroine wandering home to listen to Piaf dreaming of her time to come with the beautiful people. As Anderson narrates, the chorus, sung wonderfully by Bex Baxter, is dreamlike, buoyed by swooning keyboards and trippy effects. Please Let This Go is starkly wonderful. Pizzicato violin underpins Anderson’s pained recollections of failed love before a limpid rhythm and string section draw the song to a close. There’s some healing in the lovely The Wind And The Rain, another string driven threnody that opens with a fragility that’s eventually supplanted by a soulful organ as Anderson reflects and gathers the strength to forge on ahead. Feel is darkly claustrophobic, a menacing blues cluster with savage guitar work (from Ali Ferguson) that recalls John Martyn on I’d Rather Be The Devil. Anderson rushes through the words, his voice billowing like Tim Buckley’s.
As the album approaches a conclusion Anderson bares his soul on the exceptional spoken word With You All. A Beat poem with a naked soul, Anderson recalling Jackie Leven and even Renton’s Choose Life rap from Trainspotting in his delivery as he describes the photographs he took of his first born son and recalls the highs and lows of his life. The final three songs are contemplative reflections, Anderson returning to the chamber folk of Please let This Go peppered with some electronic burblings which add to the atmosphere. Crying From My Heart weeps majestically, the instrumentation simply superb. Five Days is gossamer thin, dappled with spare guitar, Anderson’s supple voice suffused with emotion. The closing song, Rising Sons, rises from an electronic morass growing into a tender salute to his children, now grown but still close to his heart as Anderson closes the disc singing, “I’d choose broken bones over broken homes, I’m here for you my boy”.
There’s an emotional heft to this album that raises it well above the bar. Anderson recalls his peer, Blue Rose Code’s Ross Wilson not only in their shared explorations of the hinterland of jazz and folk (and their expeditions into dance and rap) but also in the ability to convey hurt and loss with an aching beauty. Under The Cover Of Lightness is not, despite the lushness of some of the songs, an easy listen but will reward the earnest listener well.