A ”better late than never” review / Hamish Napier: The Woods

I hate the word organic when it’s applied to the marketing of food. It can mean a variety of things and most of them would be misleading to the customer who tries to make a responsible choice.

So I use organic here after careful consideration, and I use it with the word lush. This for a very simple reason: this album, or thematic work, is about Scottish woods and trees. Woods and forests are very much organic and usually quite lush, and so is this wonderful music that takes you on a veritable journey.

The Woods was released in early spring but I only got to writing about it now; see the ”Darkness” posting on the Music Musings section of this blog for the reasons of the delay.

The album is part 3 of Hamish Napier’s developing series of Scottish-themed works, preceded by The River and The Railway, as you most likely know. What makes his giant effort so rich is the way each album has a character of its own while retaining the composer’s signatures and trademarks.

Whereas The River was slightly jazzy and winding and at times wild – as rivers are – and The Railway’s tunes reflected more modern landscapes but also a time fading into history, The Woods, then, breathes and glows the natural energy and presence of its title subject. It’s modern instrumental music with some prog elements but waist deep in Scottish and Celtic soil, as is appropriate with the album’s theme.

The band sound is big and pulsating with almost no electric instruments; the melodies flow and vibrate as the wind between the trees. It is both very big and very gentle. Like the woods themselves, says this Finnish writer who likes to wander in our own woods very much 🙂

With 20 fairly short pieces and just over an hour’s playing time, The Woods comes across as a coherent piece instead of a jigsaw of various tunes. They all are independent tunes, but as an album, they come together in such a way that I don’t pay much attention to which tune is playing. It’s like walking through forest: you encounter lots of trees and may pay attention to every one but in the end it’s about the whole rather than the units therein.

Having said that, I do have three special faves here. The intricate colors and chord structures of Mycorrhiza / The Tree of Life are exquisite and really open up when listened to with good headphones; the sequence of The Tree of Love leading to The Tree of Magic / Venus In The Woods is giddily and infectiously happy (I listened to it last walking out in the bright autumn sunshine and it was magic); the finale The Highest Willows comes across as an almost sacred chant and a spell to protect all the woods and forests who, in turn, are so vitally important to us.

In closing, I want to mention I met Hamish Napier very briefly at the meet&greet after the premiere performance of The Woods at CC2020. He came across as a person of such kindness and light, taking a few moments to chat and tell us about his teaching gig in Finland’s Haapavesi Folk Music festival when he was a bit younger.

It was a happy moment for me and I believe the generous and warm music on The Woods is also a reflection of his character.

The Woods is available on Hamish Napier’s Bandcamp site where your purchase benefits the artist directly.


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