Sometimes words don’t feel sufficient when trying to describe the indescribable, even with a thesaurus to hand. Maybe that is why the liner notes to Blue Rose Code’s new studio album ‘The Water of Leith’ are written by Ian Rankin, one of the UK’s finest writers. I can’t compete, so I’ll simply say this:
Stop what you’re doing. Switch off the phone and close the door. Put this album on and lie down. Be prepared for the rollercoaster journey. For this music will grip your heart and cause your breath to slow. Your heartrate will calm, then quicken. You will start to smile, and your smile will turn to joy. And then you’ll laugh when you hear the yawn at the end of ‘Ebb and Flow’. You will feel compelled to dance to ‘Bluebell’. But then you may cry as I did, a few tears of joy, when you realise that the beautiful percussion on ‘To the Shore’ is actually a foetal heartbeat.
The Water of Leith completes a trilogy of game-changing Blue Rose Code albums since 2014, all of which have at the top of my annual ‘top 10’. Beginning with ‘The Ballads of Peckham Rye’, these albums have been semi-autobiographical, offering glimpses into the, at times, troubled life of Ross Wilson, the genius behind Blue Rose Code. Wilson has laid bare his soul through this musical journey – and in quiet, subtle ways, the pieces of the jigsaw from these albums now come together to create a rich portrait of the man, and a masterpiece. His listeners have felt every painful heartbreak and addiction along the way, whilst watching Wilson blossom and grow both personally and professionally.
Wilson has gathered a brilliant band of musicians around him – notably Wild Lyle Watt (guitar), John Lowrie (keyboard, drums) and Iain Sloan (pedal steel) – but he has not been confined by them. Blue Rose Code has evolved and morphed, with instruments and musicians growing and changing such that the music defies being tied to a style or genre. Yes, there have been repeated references to Van Morrison and John Martyn, but Wilson is far more than that. His music slips and slides, away from all comparisons. The Water of Leith fuses elements of jazz and orchestra at times, and uses beautiful Gaelic poetry as an instrument. Wilson’s distinctive Scottish vocals and insightful lyrics are two of his strengths, yet he takes a big risk with two largely instrumental tracks – a risk which pays off richly. One of these ‘The Water’, co-written with Lowrie, stretches to almost ten minutes in length (bringing the delightful promise of a double vinyl album to follow, due to the album’s length). No voices, and only three instruments, ‘The Water’ is the calm and the gathering clouds before the storm. Moving seamlessly into ‘To the Shore’, the music builds and crashes over eight delicious minutes, echoing the yin and yang of Wilson’s tempestuous journey that has produced such an incredible soundtrack to his life, and which ends with the heartbeat’s promise of new life and new beginnings.
The three albums in the trilogy could alternatively be renamed Faith, Hope and Joy – representing the sentiments from the snatches of lyrics, not in any religious sense, and the emotions that are triggered by each album. In The Water of Leith, Faith and Hope become Joy, a milestone is reached. Wilson has finally found his safe landing, his home. He has recently been snatched up by a music label, Navigator Records, following years of self-funding and self-promoting, supported by a loyal fan base. If anyone deserves success and happiness it is him. As well as finding a distributer for The Water of Leith, Wilson has also found love, with a child due shortly after the album’s release. Proof that the best music doesn’t always need hard times.
But it’s probably best not to over-analyse what is simply glorious, authentic music, with its roots in Scotland and its head reaching for the stars. Just lie down, listen and absorb the joy from The Water of Leith.
The Water of Leith will be released by Navigator Records on 27th October 2017