Review Summary: Seabuckthorn presents musical images that are focused, melodic and experimental at the same time.
Sea buckthorn is this remedial yellow berry that grows at high altitudes, like The Himalayas. On the other hand, Seabuckthorn is the alias of the British guitar player and multi-instrumentalist Andy Cartwright, who just came up with his ninth album, _A House With Too Much Fire_.
When you mention the Himalayas and high altitudes, probably the first impression you get is a certain atmosphere such an image conjures, and connecting it to music, the first guess would be ambient music, maybe even the dreaded New Age. Cartwright is certainly attempting to create musical images, here connected to high altitudes, as he recorded this album in the Southern Alps, with most song sequences recorded in one take, I guess with wooden logs slowly crackling in the background.
Luckily, Cartwright never goes into the New Age terrain, and the musical ambients he creates have more in common with those created by the likes of John Fahey (both in his acoustic and electric phases), Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance or Robert Fripp at his more introspective. And if you need the Himalaya connection, Cartwright at moments also recollects Robbie Basho, the guitar master that was under heavy Eastern influences (try “It Was A Glow”).
To be able to make meaningful music with such inspirations you certainly need to know your, instruments, particularly the guitar and be willing to use as much experimentation, while not forsaking melody and musical flow. Cartwright certainly possesses, both the technique and ideas so to make his musical images both listenable and not overtaken by flashy show-offs of technical capabilities. Tracks like “Disentangled” and “Blackout” have the musical flow, constrain their experimental elements to the image that is to be presented and don’t meander aimlessly for too long.
Cartwright's use of additional instruments like banjo and clarinet with only occasional use of synths simply enrich the music, without losing direction (try “What The Shepherds Call Ghosts”). On the other hand, tracks like “Submerged Past” are a subtle show offs how well Cartwright can use his acoustic guitar skills.
All in all, quite an intriguing and listenable mood piece that at the same time shows skill and intelligence. Highly recommended.