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Nolen Sellwood - Cadence to the Flame (New Folk Records)

7 June 2024

I remember having Otherwise, the debut album from Nolen Sellwood playing, a couple of years ago now, and being immersed in a sound that conjured thoughts of sixties coffee shop singer-songwriters and seventies basement folk clubs and names such as John Martyn and the brief yet brilliant Nick Drake. As soon as I heard Cadence to the Flame’s opener“State of Being,” I recognised the place I was being drawn back to and submitted with pleasure. (I will admit that it may have been Sellwood’s picture and his fantastic and gravity-defying hair that made me recall that I had encountered him before.)

From the gentle voice and guitar, strings, and tabla beat delicacy of the introduction, we are taken through a set of songs that, whilst not exactly sounding like those two artists mentioned above or indeed any others that I can readily think of, certainly come from the same world of deftness and delicacy, space and understatement.

Perhaps one of the things that speaks volumes about Sellwood’s approach is “Banjo Song,” where he takes that oft-maligned instrument and, where most people would opt to thrash and drive it to breaking point, open the throttle and see how fast it can go, as it were, opts to merely draw ragged yet beguiling sonic spirals from it. The space he gives it frames the instrument’s raw beauty and allows the song to breathe.

Then there are songs such as “Like A Sailor,” which is simply one of those gorgeous, timeless tracks. It is the sound of an artist in control, often merely breathing the vocals over agile, finger-picked acoustic guitar and the rising atmospherics of percussion and sonic silkiness.

The word timeless best captures the spirit of this album. It is certainly modern, more indie-folk than traditional, but then, most traditional folk sounds were regarded as cutting-edge at some point. But it is a set of songs that feel like you have been listening to them forever, and what better definition of the word is there?

New Folk Records