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Culture, Music

Review: Murmurate, Richard Walters

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Following his recent work as a member of LYR (alongside poet laureate Simon Armitage and Patrick Pearson) and Sun Lo (with Canadian producer ATTLAS),  prolific musician Richard Walters is one of Oxford’s best kept secrets. He is back with his new album Murmurate, his first solo collection since Golden Veins (2020). 

Walters has amassed over 100 million streams across five critically acclaimed albums and four EPs to date. Since his debut release in 2005, his music has featured on TV shows including Grey’s Anatomy, CSI: Miami and Tin Star, while receiving praise from The Guardian and notable support from BBC 6 Music’s Lauren Laverne and Guy Garvey, plus BBC Radio 2’s Jo Whiley and Dermot O’Leary.

Murmuration is the name given to the swirling shapes that starlings make in the sky at sunset, and it’s an apt image for this reflectively hypnotic album. The melodic and tonal shifts of the music drift and dart from the confessional and uplifting to the reflective and deadpan, mirroring the album’s broader theme of how feelings push and pull, shift direction and constellate into recognisable shapes and moods that change course through time.

Style-wise Walters covers the space between the ‘Neu folk’ of Bon Iver and the anthemic melancholia of Hozier; there are resemblances to Damien Rice, the ‘Dream-pop’ of Beach House, and song writing influences include John Martyn, Talk Talk and Tunnel of Love-era Springsteen. The resultant album combines unassumingly complex arrangements with heart-on-sleeve songs, mostly delivered via Walters’ restrained falsetto.

After Midnight opens the album, the combination of guitar and Walters’ voice creates a solid-footed feel of embarking on a journey as a circling synth swells up a feeling of expectation and, as it progresses, Walters intimate vocals tell a tale laced with a gentle sense of humour.

It’s a song that recalls the effort it can take to hit the town as you get older, and the unspoken relief that can come with calling for an Uber. As Walters explains

“When the world started to wake up again post lockdown I sprinted towards the door; I bolted, with unbelievable enthusiasm and joy, and I fell. I wiped out a fair few times in my desire to get back into a routine, to return to normality. I eventually found myself moving back from the bustle and noise, a combination of anxiety and a previously unearthed desire for more and more calm…. the mixed up, confused feeling of needing to be elsewhere but feeling the tug of home”.

Anchor was a response to Walters finding himself away from his daughters for the first time in almost 20 months, and the parental yearning to protect and support expressed lyrically in lines like “if you let go, I’ll hold on to you”. In Walters’ phrasing it becomes a more nuanced and bittersweet song of both lullaby and loss.

Elsewhere, Salt and Skye both vocalise Walters’ need to be on the move; to get back to unknown landscapes. The swirling use of surprise and movement in the music evoke the play of mixed emotion. He uses clever melodies and unexpected time signatures to give archetypal themes a freshness and the feel of emotional clarity emerging in real time.

Repeat phrasing is used to great effect amongst a wash of sound, and displays why Walters’ music is sought after in TV soundtracks as well as by artists like Grammy-winner Joe Henry, British icon Alison Moyet and Oscar-nominated actress and singer (and fellow Oxfordian) Florence Pugh.

Some albums feel as though they hook you most at certain times of year and Murmurate is undoubtedly autumnal. It shifts from nocturnal piano ballads (All Over), to sprightly folk/pop poetry (Long Way Down), darkly lilting lullabies (Open Everything) to longing, love-lorn duets (Lost in your Light). 

As Walters himself says: “That’s where the title Murmurate comes from - I just wanted to feel that unison again, to move in time with other songwriters and musicians, to flock and gather and soar a little bit, even if the distance from my homelife made me feel torn from time to time.”

If you like music that weaves those moods together and want to luxuriate in the seasonal shifts going on around outside this is absolutely worth a listen.

by Nathan Matthew

RICHARD WALTERS - NEW ALBUM: ‘MURMURATE’ OUT 17 NOVEMBER

Richard will be performing at the Jericho Tavern in Oxford on 25 November. For more information and to book, visit richardwaltersmusic.co.uk/live

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