Richard Skelton is an artist from northern England, UK whose work is deeply immersed in landscape and nature. To date he has released over 30 EPs and albums of music, and has produced work for exhibitions, performance, feature films and documentaries. His latest work, entitled Border Ballads, was recently released by Corbel Stone Press, a publishing house which he co-runs with wife & creative partner Autumn Richardson. The first part of the title refers to the location around which the album is themed as well as where it was recorded, the well-watered border country where Scotland and England meet. It is an evocative place and one that makes fertile territory for Skelton’s vivid sonic explorations. The second part of the title is a clue that this is one of the most lyrical recordings in his canon, favoring concise melodic structures over the sprawling, glacial soundscapes that feature in much of his recent work.
“Skelton has spent the last two years living on the rural northern edge of the Scotland-England border, a boundary demarcated by various watercourses – among them the Kershope Burn, the Liddel Water and the River Esk. This hinterland topography has informed a series of musical recordings which, in their brevity, stand in stark contrast to the long-form compositions for which he is more usually known. Nevertheless, there is a sense that these twelve miniatures are fragments of a larger whole, such is their unity in tone and timbre.”
That said, there is a contrast here to ‘Marking Time‘, Skelton’s work of a similar nature from a decade ago, a brooding gravitas that haunts the albums darker edges as the liner notes so eloquently explain:
“Whereas ‘Marking Time’ felt aeolian, shifting, fleeting, this new work, with its persistent cello undertow and its low, tremulous viola, feels telluric, grounded, earthen. Perhaps ‘Border Ballads’ can be seen as the embodiment of a desire for certainty after a prolonged period of upheaval, but that ever-close riverine border, at once both fixed and fluid, is a disturbing presence. A darkness that cannot be ignored.”
Like a camera panning slowly across a vast landscape, different perspectives emerge as Border Ballads unfolds itself. The “darkness that cannot be ignored” makes presence felt most on such drone-heavy tracks as “Votive”, “Dhu”, or “Altar Valley” while shimmering piano notes provide graceful counterpoint to the stark beauty of such pieces as “Kist and Ark”, “Roan”, “Yade”, and “Hobb”. The album is at perhaps its most affecting, however, when the strings positively ache with indefinable yearning as they do on “Fair Shining”, “Mask” and “Kershope”. Border Ballads is not a casual observer’s fanciful musings on a remote landscape. This is the music of someone who has walked it, lived in it, felt its undersong, and pondered its history and it will resonate deeply in the ears of the open minded listener.
Border Ballads is available on CD from Corbel Stone Press or digitally from Aeolian Editions. Note that a reasonably priced yearly subscription to Aeolian is also on offer which provides access to a substantial back catalog along with lots of exclusive bonus content making it well worth a look.