It seems fair to say that folk-inspired music has, since the final stages of the last decade, experienced a much needed renaissance. From the continuing critical success of Fleet Foxes, Bon Iver and Laura Marling to the all- conquering juggernaut named Mumford & Sons, more and more budding musicians are making their mark with mandolins, banjos and acoustic guitars, and the boom shows no sign of dying down. If said boom helps albums like Country Sleep get the attention they deserve, then I hope it continues for at least another four centuries.
Night Beds is driven by the vision of Winston Yellen, a hyper-talented singer songwriter who wrote this album from a house in Nashville once owned by Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash. I like to think they would like Country Sleep. It’s a raw, haunting, beautiful piece of work that goes well with a spot of night-time soul-searching. Yellen’s voice is vulnerable and utterly charming, and it suits his lyrics perfectly. The album’s second song, Ramona (the first track is a capella, which should tell you that the timidness in his voice doesn’t reflect a lack of musical ambition) sees him pleading with the titular female; “come on Ramona, church bells are ringing, everyone’s singing, why do we feel so alone?” That song, by the way, is probably the happiest on the entire record. It is that kind of album, and it’s all the better for it. The sixth track, Cherry Blossoms, is a miserable masterpiece, an achingly gorgeous song containing some strikingly blunt confessions; “through my window, cold wind blowing, I can’t take this, I can’t take no more. Cars they race by, burning headlights, in the mirror I watch myself cry.”
In the hands of a lesser artist, the constant self-doubt would become tiresome, but Yellen handles the album so delicately that there isn’t a single dissatisfying moment on the record. The record lasts just half an hour, which eliminates any need for filler. Some songs are more forgettable than others, but none are wholly expendable. They all sound fantastic as well, thanks to some well-realised production and a lovely acoustic guitar. The whole thing just feels so genuine, so lovingly created, so heartfelt.
It isn’t perfect. It’s too similar to recent work from Fleet Foxes and Bon Iver, and marginally inferior to them; Helplessness Blues was a more diverse and creative record, while Bon Iver by Bon Iver was… well, Bon Iver by Bon Iver. It was outstanding. But as far as debuts go, Country Sleep is terrific. It’s gutsy and it’s meaningful and it’s just bloody great. The folk-renaissance continues.
This article was first posted on March 26, 2013