I love an album that can leave me breathless. I also love an album that can leave me speechless. I think the new solo record from Duncan Patterson does the latter. There is a mysterious sort of reverence I feel after hearing Grace Road, almost like I need to be quiet for a moment out of respect. The album released on March 21st.
Duncan is a name many of you will recognize, as he has been involved in many important projects.. He was a part of legendary band Anathema in the 90s, being the main writer on their Eternity and Alternative 4 albums. He started Antimatter and remained there for 4 albums. He expressed himself through the illustrious Íon and Alternative 4 projects for two albums each. His first solo record The Eternity Suite in 2015 was a gracious gift to us. And now he is here with Grace Road, featuring Palestinian singer Enas Al-Said.
As with his influence in Anathema and in all his other projects, Duncan writes peaceful music that can be deeply tumultuous emotionally. The music, though, is always inspiring, sacred, and refined. On Grace Road, this continues. There are no giant crescendos or technical fireworks here. No, this album is a hovering, humble, and haunting piece that feels pensive, intimate, and nuanced.
Grace Road is full of melodies that flit and flicker with meek beauty and spiritual elegance. The songs flow into one another like warm friends, and Duncan spends time and space wisely and maturely. This is not a record that grabs you by the throat; it will not make your jaw drop. But through listening multiple times, I can feel a righteous and misty passion, like the smoldering haze above red hot coals; and this effervescence is one of healing, one of mystery, one of veneration. It feels like presence. It feels like consciousness in musical expression.
The album uses piano, keyboards, and stringed accompaniment to reach most of this. It also employs the illustrious and unassuming vocals of Enas Al-Said to amazing effect. Her voice is one with the awe, one with the devotion. She emotes and delivers her vocals with precision and class, and after multiple listens, she soon becomes the star and highlight of the entire record.
Grace Road only has 5 songs and it lasts about 33 minutes. The opener “Absolut Absolutum” draws us into an echo, into a resonance of peace. I love the slow melody and Enas’ quivering approach. Next comes the ten-minute “The Quiet Light”, a track with multiple transitions in tone from sacred feelings to bass-driven musings and abstractions. This song lifts my eyes to the heavens, so to speak.
“Walking Between Worlds” has a hesitant, repeating vocal line that feels like a response to the music. I remember not liking it the first time, at least not completely, but I have found myself humming it. There’s something about it. If the album has a crescendo, you will find it in the subtle rise near the end of this song. “The Amber Line” is the single, and an interesting choice for that. It is hushed and quietly unsettled, using a lower range of vocals to express something fearful, something unnamed, perhaps? The final track is the title song, and it is instrumental. It features a film score atmosphere, but one that is downtempo and pensive. I like how it lingers and floats with quiet solitude, rising and falling ever so slightly and with dignity. It is a beautiful closing.
Even just writing this review, I feel like I need a minute. Duncan has given us an album that is pregnant with remembrance, like being suspended in amniotic memory. It may be silent and elusive, but it does not lack power or effect, and its deep feelings of meaning are like the colors of the wind. Grace Road is so sumptuous and so meditative; it is the exact sort of music I need sometimes.
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