Passenger's eighth studio album, 2016's Young as the Morning Old as the Sea, is a lushly produced album rife with subtle melodies and lyrics that reveal singer/songwriter Mike Rosenberg's soul-scratching itch to wander windswept rural landscapes. While Young as the Morning Old as the Sea follows on the heels of his stripped-down 2015 effort, Whispers II, given Rosenberg's use of orchestral arrangements and varied instrumentation from organ and trumpet to lap steel guitar, the album has more in common with 2014's Whispers. As on that album, Rosenberg here pairs with producer Chris Vallejo, a longtime collaborator. Together, they decamped to Neil Finn's Roundhead Studios in Auckland and, later, Linear Studios in Sydney to capture these nuanced, often delicately rendered compositions. Once again, the primary focus with Passenger is Rosenberg's folky, poetic, acoustic guitar-based songs built around his idiosyncratic voice. It's a distinctive combination that brings to mind the fantastical combination of an elfin troubadour and Van Morrison, as well as more grounded comparisons like Amos Lee minus the R&B influence or Brett Dennen with the Southern twang replaced by a British lilt. An air of wanderlust and a celebration of the life-renewing power of nature pervade the album. As Rosenberg sings on the title track, "I wanna feel a Russian winter/I wanna go to my Polish grandmother's home/I wanna see Hungarian lanterns/I wanna walk on a road that leads to Rome/I wanna be free as the wind that blows past me." And while there is a palpable joy in many of these songs, there is also a bittersweet quality, as if Rosenberg has been through a breakup or other loss. It's a tone he strikes best on his gossamer, Elizabethan-tinged duet with U.K. folk siren Birdy, "Beautiful Birds." They sing, "One day you asked for a different song/One that I just couldn't sing/I got the melody sharp and the words all wrong/Those were the last days of spring." Certainly, there are hooky, anthemic moments on Young as the Morning Old as the Sea, including the rambling, waltz-like "If You Go" and the rousing, declaratively romantic "Anywhere," both of which bring to mind a pleasing mix of Mumford & Sons and the Beautiful South. That said, these are deeply thoughtful and sophisticated songs that may take more than one listen to truly appreciate. Ultimately, with Young as the Morning Old as the Sea, Passenger has crafted an album that, not unlike the oceans, fields, roads, and relationships that inspired it, remains with you, calling you to return.
Young as the Morning Old as the Sea Review
by Matt Collar