This lovely album's title might be somewhat misleading; it refers not to the musical style, but to a book of poetry of that title written by James Joyce in 1902. Some of these poems have been given musical settings before, most notably Syd Barrett's haunting version of "Golden Hair" on his first solo album, but Chamber Music, Vol. 1 is the first album to combine all of the poems into a single song cycle. Interestingly, this album is also something of a musical homecoming for Martyn Bates; although the singer and keyboard player is best known for his artsy, minimalist electronic albums (both solo and as half of the duo Eyeless in Gaza), his initial musical interests were stirred by traditional British folk. On this album, which is performed almost entirely a cappella with only the most minimal musical backing on some tracks, Bates sets Joyce's poetry to melodies from the British and Irish folk idioms. The melodies fit Joyce's cadences as if they were written for them (unsurprisingly, given how attuned he was to his country's native idioms), and they suit Bates' clear tenor perfectly as well. Chamber Music, Vol. 1 is a stylistic departure for Martyn Bates, but an entirely successful one.
AllMusic Review by Stewart Mason