Bill Fay was once called the missing link between Nick Drake and The Kinks when Uncut magazine described the quintessentially English orchestral folk rock songs on his 1970 eponymous debut. After a second album 1971, he seemingly disappeared. He popped up again 2012 with Life Is People, his debut for Dead Oceans. He’s back again now with his third album in seven years, Countless Branches. Some of the backing tracks on this album were recorded up to 40 years ago.
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There’s a reason piano and violin is such a well worn combination. It’s because it makes me cry every time I hear it. It worked for Beethoven and boy does it work for Bill Fay. Both instruments are tender and warm, they’re wonderful at communicating the more tender emotions. As is, I should say, Bill Fay’s voice.
‘Countless Branches’ is the third album of Fay’s brilliant second act as a musician and takes a much more gentle tack than he has previously. 2012’s ‘Life Is People’ occasionally veered into Spiritualized-esque opulence, but that’s mostly rolled back. And what we’re left with is the piano, the violin, and that voice.
The simplicity of the instrumentation suits these 10 simple songs. None are even four minutes long, their choruses follow their verses, and they’re all just lovely. The chorus on ‘Your Little Face’ is just those three words, made so meaningful in Fay’s hands. The way he sings the world “remain” on ‘Love Will Remain’ makes me believe that’s true.
Fay’s piano playing dances around the keys in a mournful waltz, occasionally contributing a sweet melodic hook as on closer ‘One Life’. Violin (though maybe sometimes cello) plays long deep bows that wrench the heart. Following ‘Life Is People’, it really is a privilege to listen to an album as restrained and thoughtful as ‘Countless Branches’ from Fay.
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