While 2012's Awellupontheway was distinctly a rock album, garnering enthusiastic comparisons to bands like the Waterboys and Fairport Convention, the follow-up LP from Cornwall's Red River Dialect is something much more fragile. The songs on Tender Gold & Gentle Blue were initially written as a personal coping method for bandleader David Morris after the sudden death of his father. These acoustic meditations on loss weren't really intended for the band, nor even for release, but in a poignant show of solidarity, Morris' musical family closed ranks around their friend and tempered their talents to match the mood of this quiet, introspective set. Deftly arranged around Morris' gentle acoustic guitar, strains of fiddle, banjo, piano, and subtle tape loops lend bittersweet tracks like "Fallen Tree" and "Dozmary" an air of wonder reclaimed hope. Part of the album's uniqueness is how strangely life-affirming Morris' sorrow comes across. Perhaps it's the geographical aura of Cornwall's windswept shores or the musical and emotional support of his bandmates, but the overwhelming tone on Tender Gold & Gentle Blue is of woolen, seaside warmth. Even the heartrending "For Ruth and Jane," which Morris sings to his mother and sister as fellow survivors in grief, feels tapped into an ancient vein where the mysteries of life, death, and nature are reluctantly accepted, if never understood. At its most cathartic, the near-mystical "Ring of Kerry" offers a ten-minute soul journey utilizing field recordings of land and sea, drone notes, and haunting psych-folk chants. By the time the album starts to wind down with the gorgeous, string-laden "Great Eastern Sun," there's a weary peace that's been established. In a tribute to the power of healing and reconciliation, Morris and his crew close the album on a high note with an instrumental rendition of "Bound for the Rio Grande," an old outward-bound sea shantey which celebrates the beginning of a journey.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger