James McArthur first released his debut solo work to critical acclaim back in 2006 with Plan Your Own Escape and has been working tirelessly ever since to enhance and adapt his tender and soulful stylings. Over the years this has seen the formation of James McArthur and the Head Gardeners, a collective of charming and eloquent musicians with a deep sense of passion.
This year saw the release of their latest album, the aptly titled Intergalactic Sailor; a tender and evocative collective of songs that echo the sombre likings of Iron and Wine or Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. Rich, delicate songs that are carefully stripped back to their very essence and then gently restructured to something new. Listening the gentle strings in Intergalactic Sailor is like listening to the beat of someone’s heart – it’s warming, comforting and it’s exuding life in every beat. McArthur is to music what a Master Blender is to a distillery. He is a careful and articulate man with one of the most finely tuned ears on the circuit and with that power comes a certain level of expectation that he has never once failed to live up to. Both his words and his music are positively immersive as they paint the world with a whole new spectrum of colours.
This is where the concept of the Intergalactic Sailor becomes particularly resonant with listeners as it might be the best description for the careful blended style that the group create. With soft and sombre tracks like Drain the River you hear more than just folk, more than just acoustic, more than just orchestra. You hear layer upon layer which builds and swells until it comes crashing down like waves on a shoreline. But the most amazing element in this is how gently they hit. Instead of crashing down with a violence and power it’s as though they dissipate as they hit the shore and leave you awash in a sea of tingling foam. The spectrum McArthur and co. work on is a whole, new unparalleled dimension that most of us are yet to discover. It really is as thought the group have been on a journey through time and space to find the sound that is completely perfect and fitting to them. Couple that with the elegant and soothing vocals of McArthur and you have a group who might as well be producing music from another galaxy because it’s certainly not from ours.
Intergalactic Sailor is quite unlike most things you would have heard before. It’s an indelible collection of songs that seem to tie gentle fusions of sound together that have hereto been scattered to the wind previously. There are echoes of familiarity in there with songs akin to Nick Drake and Iron and Wine but they are fleeting glimpses of influences through the years. James McArthur and the Head Gardeners have completely made their sound their own.
Review by Joe Knipe