Sulidae. Kitchen Sink Dharma

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Sulidae is a solo project from Glaswegian singer/songwriter Bobby Motherwell although describing Motherwell as a singer/songwriter actually does him some disservice. Aside from playing in the band The Undying Embers, he promotes live music in his abode of Howwood, bags Munros for a charity drive and is an accomplished photographer, poet and prose author. Kitchen Sink Dharma is our first opportunity to listen to Motherwell and its mellow sound, accompanying his warm embrace of humanity in his lyrics, sung with a fine Scots burr, kind of knocked us out by how good it is.

There are songs and spoken word poems. most of them adorned with delicate accompaniment. The players involved (Kirsten Adamson – backing vocals, Andy Lucas – keys, Duncan Lyall – upright bass, Colin Steele – trumpet and Alice Allen – cello) are among the cream of the crop when it comes to Scottish players with Lucas and Steele well known as members of the ever shifting Blue Rose Code and Lyall having a CV to die for. Together, Motherwell and his troupe weave a quite magical tapestry of songs and sounds.

The album opens on a downbeat note as Motherwell sings on A Letter And A Blessing of a relationship which has foundered. The song’s recollection of the more mundane aspects of breaking up allows it the aspect of a kitchen sink drama but there’s a sliver of hope within the lyrics as Motherwell dwells on the aftermath, singing, “The Future looks painfully bright.” Adamson adds ethereal backing vocals while Lucas’ piano is plaintive and elegant. This balance of regret and hope permeates the album with Motherwell able to capture the pathos of writers such as Loudon Wainwright and Richard Thompson while the chamber folk of Unspoken harks back to the earthiness of early Gerry Rafferty on his debut solo album, Can I Have My Money Back.

There’s a nod to classic country duos when a banjo intrudes on the prison ballad Why Don’t You Believe In Me as Adamson trades harmony vocals with the song sounding as if it could be an out-take from a lost Alejandro Escovedo album. In a similar vein, The Child In The Growing positively glows as Motherwell, with Adamson again singing along, muses on the rhythm of life with Colin Steele’s trumpet adding to the circumspection. Motherwell nails his colours to the mast on his solo rendition of Living Like All The Rest which is a confessional of sorts, reminiscent of the late Jackie Leven.

While the songs agonise and tussle with the human condition, there are two spoken word poems which, aside from emphasising Motherwell’s Scottish accent, give the album some emotional ballast. How Peace Was Won, backed by pared back piano and birdsong, finds Motherwell finding some solace in nature and nostalgia while The Silence Was Deafening, which closes the album, again cleaves to nature, almost like a Ted Hughes poem with a Scottish accent. 

Brand New Day erupts towards the end of the album as if someone has swept open the curtains as you are recovering from a hangover. It’s bright and spritely with Steele’s trumpet ringing as clear as a morning reveille and while it’s Motherwell’s celebration of a new start it does somewhat jar within the overall sound of the album. A minor complaint to be sure.

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