Gwyneth Moreland – Cider
Gwyneth Moreland’s California upbringing and sense of community greatly informs the songwriting on her release Cider. The ten songs on this album focus, in different ways and focuses, on character and Moreland demonstrates a nearly matchless talent for getting under the skin of her subject matter without ever giving short shrift to the track’s potential. She has secured the services of some amazing accompaniment for these performances, among them Gene Parsons, former pedal steel guitarist with seminal California country-influenced rockers The Flying Burrito Brothers and The Byrds. Her singing and songwriting, however, are the album’s primary attraction. She lives every line of these songs and shows a consistent willingness to throw herself into the moments and experiences depicted within. Producer David Hayes did a fantastic job of giving these songs the best of all possible platforms to get over with her audience. Cider is a memorable moment in the history of modern folk music.
This album is what was once commonly referred to as a grower. The ten songs comprising Cider never overly-assert themselves and rely on an accumulation of emotions to make their impact rather than lyrical shortcuts and unwanted shows of musical virtuosity. The earliest indication of its merit comes straight out of the chute with “Movin’ On”. Moreland effortlessly invokes long standing themes and tropes of the folk genre while still shaping them with her own experiences. It strikes just the right musical note with its sleepy mid-tempo shuffle beat and the lightly handled percussion strikes just the right note. Despite the relatively sedate nature of the performance, the second track “Broken Road” drifts along at a languid but lush pace. The musical treatment extends to the use of backing vocals that gives the arrangement an added ethereal quality – the voices mesh with a complementary sound that makes the melody glow quite brightly. “Little Bird” is the first fully developed example of Moreland’s storytelling powers and the way she brings the evocative power of her voice, the lyrics, and musical arrangement together immensely enriches the song’s potential. “Eloise” further develops the mood established by the preceding song but Moreland’s use of dramatic chord sequences and melodic acoustic runs never strikes such a low note that it risks bathos.
There’s something refreshingly throwback yet modern about the song “The California Zephyr”, yet it sparkles with genuine inspiration. It’s easy, with such a wealth of tradition at their command, to find folk artists quite will to merely approximate the past, but performers who attempt to give it a much more evolving, human form are rarer indeed. “Danny Parker” further reinforces that idea. Much like some of the album’s earliest tracks, “Danny Parker” shows off her skills at creating compelling characters with a few significant details and just enough familiarity to draw us further in. The album’s title song is another of its many memorable moments on both a musical and lyrical level. Gwyneth Moreland’s time in the sun has arrived. Cider shows her to be a first rate purveyor of traditional music and marked with an imagination capable of revitalizing its approach.