Will Stratton

Rosewood Almanac

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An American singer/songwriter openly indebted to Nick Drake, Will Stratton had been quietly releasing albums of consistently high quality for a decade by the arrival of his sixth LP, Rosewood Almanac. While such things are often unknowable, his relative lack of celebrity by the time of its 2017 release may be due, at least partly, to his own disinterest in self-promotion. That includes, with regular but limited exceptions, revisiting material by way of touring. Thankfully, the one-time music composition major does relish writing and getting it down on record, so fans of intimate, artfully crafted acoustic songs can take heart -- or at least have the chance to put Stratton on their radar. Named in tribute to his guitar, Rosewood Almanac does offer up arrangements that expand beyond voice and guitar, though, as is customary for the agile picker and overall well-rounded player, the album's namesake is his star accompanist. In an illustration of this balance, the first track, "Light Blue," opens with nature in the form of bird calls, then Stratton's voice and guitar work before he's joined by an electric guitar, piano, and rhythm section that intertwine with established lines. Later, "Vanishing Class," a song about the disenfranchised, opts instead for strings and minimal piano under lithe arpeggiation. These entries remain intimate, however; alternately, the solo tracks are rich and harmonic, with Stratton often seeming like two guitarists. Throughout, complex chords and progressions lend a touch of classical Impressionism to his reflective folk-rock. With due credit to a strong, full set, he really thrives on the sparer pieces, such as the closing pairing of "This Is What We Do" and "Ribbons." With existential lyrics about hardship and fate (including reference to his own successful cancer treatments following 2014's Gray Lodge Wisdom), the singer's calm delivery manages to convey gratitude, understanding, pain, and affection across the album and even within single songs. That's no small feat, and the guitar playing's really pretty, too.

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