Robin Williamson's three previous offerings for ECM focused on his musical interpretations of poets, from Dylan Thomas and William Blake to Henry Vaughan and Walt Whitman, and included some of his own songs. Released in relatively close succession, they made up a trilogy of sorts. Trusting in the Rising Light is solely comprised of original material. Williamson plays Celtic harp, guitar, Hadanger fiddle, and whistles. He is accompanied by Mat Maneri on viola (who has worked with him since 2001's Skirting the River Road) and percussionist Ches Smith (Craig Taborn, Carla Bozulich, Mr. Bungle) on vibes, gongs, drums, and other percussion. The sonic coloration here is gorgeous. Maneri's long experience as an improviser and a student of microtonal music with his pioneering father Joe brought him in close touch with Carnatic music, which plays well to Williamson's love of open tunings and drones. (Check "Our Evening Walk," which offers counterpoint between the Hardanger and viola as an example.) On the title cut, Williamson sings atop a mid-register glissando harp, droning viola, and resonant vibes. He winds out a restrained yet circular whole tone melody with Maneri engaging just a hint of dissonance at the end. "Roads" is Williamson's version of a folk blues, his harp punctuating the melody with Maneri as a second, responsorial voice, offering sawing fills and elegant asides as Smith employs brushed snare and kick drum. The center of the album finds the instrumentation underscoring his spoken poetry, which ranges from picaresque abstraction ("Just West of Monmouth," with whistles, viola, cymbals, and gongs adorning the lyric) to post-Beat ("Night Comes Quick in LA," in which he is accompanied solely by syncopated jazz drumming). "These Hands" is a sweet, madcap reverie with elements of gypsy jazz and ragtime blues (Williamson's guitar playing is sharper than ever). "Falling Snow" offers the artist's continued wide-eyed wonder at the natural world in classic fashion, while the Eastern tone of "Your Kisses" is among the most beautiful love songs he's written -- which is saying plenty because there are dozens of fine ones. Closer "The Islands of the Inner Firth" may be the most abstract thing here with its expressionistic, sometimes dissonant viola and minimal elliptical vibes, but Williamson has tread this terrain before. His half-sung, half-spoken lyrics trace the Scottish singer's life through actual and metaphysical terrain. Fans of the Incredible String Band will flip for it. Trusting in the Rising Light is an excellent showcase for how continuously relevant Williamson remains as songwriter and poet. After so many years of waiting for a recording of all-original material, this was not only worth the wait, but all the more exceptional because of it. His gifts are undiminished by time.
AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek