The Hedge Schools – At The End Of A Winding Day – Album Review by Killian Laher
One of the finer albums released this year was At The End Of A Winding Day. The band Hedge Schools consists of Pat Barrett plus various friends, and this is their second album. It’s one of those rare albums that when you put it on, everything else seems to recede into the background. As Barrett sings on Oceans, “there’s a moment where your heart just stops”. The album is full of them, on this track it might be the point where Kevin Murphy’s cello comes in.
The instrumental title track sets the tone, a sparse piano piece with Donagh Molloy’s fine trumpet part played over it. If you imagine the point where late period Talk Talk intersects with The Blue Nile, that might give you some idea as to what this album sounds like. Sleeping Song might be a good entry point, a simple guitar and piano piece with Pat Barrett’s vocal not a million miles off Paul Buchanan. The album takes an even more emotive turn on Winter Coats, a slowburning, two piano chord beauty containing one of many gorgeous moments when Barrett sings “I need you in my life”. Song lyrics can at times be over complicated, here the simplicity cuts to the bone. The playing on this and in fact on all the tracks is economic, with a minimum of fuss, and crucially without overwhelming the songs with the help of Joe Chester’s fine job on production.
As the album unfolds, the later tracks become almost elegiac in feel. Halo opens with echoes of the opening of Mark Hollis’ definitively quiet solo album, maintaining this pensive mood throughout. But the final trio of songs might just be the true heart of the album. The gentle guitar picking of Good Ship Endeavour builds gradually, joined by piano and trumpet. October Evenings is the fullest sounding thing here, with swathes of cello throughout and a gorgeous extended coda which oozes finality. It must have been tempting to finish the album at this point but instead muffled beats introduce A Song For JM Barrie, a fine closer which could have crawled off A Walk Across the Rooftops. That’s not to say this, or any other track here are overly referential – Barrett evokes his influences subtly, without imitating, thus creating something new.
It’s an album which is designed to be listened to from start to finish, and if you haven’t discovered it yet, you’re in for a treat. Seek it out here.
1. At The End Of A Winding Day
2. Sleeping Song
4. Winter Coats
7. Good Ship Endeavour
8. October Evenings
9. A Song For JM Barrie