Album Review of Parent: Parent
“Parent” is the album title and name of this acoustic duo featuring Rachel Kern on vocals and Jason Brown on acoustic guitar. They first met in a park in Manchester in the north of England in 2013. Their shared interest in music and the arts soon found them working together, initially playing live and then collaborating on the songs that would eventually become this debut album. Over a period of 8 months, new material was written and then bounced between them to see which ideas were most engaging to develop.
Building on their preferred style of acoustic guitar and vocals, one song was chosen for enhancement with string arrangements. Such was the impact of the finished piece, more of the songs were given this magical touch. It was an emotional moment for Jason Brown: “‘You’re Not Broken’ was the first one to get the treatment. The string arranger is my wife Sarah, which is handy for us! Sarah is proper old school, and everything was worked out on the piano and hand written. When she played me her ideas for ‘You’re Not Broken’ I was simply blown away.”
Jason’s wife, Sarah Brandwood-Spencer, had the sumptuous task of writing all the string arrangements for the album, and it has been done with great delicacy. It’s as if each song had a secret that needed to be unlocked, and by letting her unconscious respond to their moods and lyrics, Sarah has been able to weave an empathic thread through the album, hearing the cry of each song’s soul.
Of the 12 songs on the album only “Tipperary” remained as it had been originally conceived, and it’s nice to hear that connection to the album’s creative origin.
In addition to the music, I must also say how I particularly liked the attention given to the package design. The use of the Paul Klee painting Burdened Children for the album cover is inspired and suits the mood of the music as well as being sympathetic to much of the lyrical content and, of course, the name of band and album itself.
The thoughtfulness of the album artwork is continued throughout the album’s musical content. There is a complex but relaxed air about this album, an assuredness of performance and a poised grace. The production is bright and the quality of sound belies its homegrown creation. It could be argued that the modern way for making great recordings is to forgo the traditional moribund studio approach and embrace a more natural organic experience that comes from recording in the comfort and familiarity of your own home surroundings. This is what Parent have done and it really makes for a well-worked and sonically satisfying album.
Upfront and centre in this musical soundscape is Jason’s beautiful-sounding Taylor acoustic guitar, and from its resonant and rich roots everything else grows. As I already mentioned, the ideas for tunes and words have been passed between Jason and Rachel, and where interest for one or other party has been piqued, the songs have been developed and the sparks of mutual intrigue have ignited into wonderful dark songs of loss, betrayal and longing.
Woven in and around these songs are the aforementioned string arrangements of delicate intricacy and powerful emotion. You can hear the attention to detail and musicality of these unique arrangements and can instinctively tell, as Jason said, that Sarah has worked from the ground up, piano and manuscript, old style creativity. There are moments in the string arrangements that remind me of James Taylor’s first album, especially on the song “You’re Not Broken,” but these are fleeting and on the whole they sparkle with originality.
The combination of the strings with the bright acoustic guitar and dark lyrics sung with Rachel’s warm jazz tones and close harmonies have made an album of deep intensity. Sarah Brandwood-Spencer adds piano to the song “Until Then,” and Matt Steele plays piano on “Trying” and “Maneater,” whilst the whole album was recorded and co-produced by Mick Routledge and mastered by Paul O’Brien.
This album has a luxurious resonance. I wonder if the songs are not some kind of cathartic personal journey of healing for the writers. An intense journey ending in a slightly unsettling but ultimately peaceful calm.
Parent by Parent is a work to be proud of and stands forthright as a modern way to make music. If you’re someone who needs a sound reference to hang it on, then I would suggest there is maybe a passing shade of ’80s album Eden by Everything But The Girl in the jazzy vibe and voice.
This album is artistically clever and, whilst thematically downcast, it has a voice both distinct and contemplative. It’s like standing in an overgrown sun-dappled wood in summer or walking along a desolate sandy beach at low tide as the sun sets on the sea. Moments in time that can regenerate the soul.
When Parent play live they are accompanied by a stunning string quartet, and their shows sell out fast. No dates to put in your diary at the moment, but the band specialise in “pop up gigs,” so you would be best advised to keep an eye on their social media links: Facebook; Twitter; Bandcamp.
The album is released as a CD and download album on the 17th June 2016.