In a restless, drowsy haze in the early hours of the morning, I settled down to listen to Marc Carroll's then unreviewed album. As it turns out, a hazy state of mind could not have been more appropriate; Stone Beads and Silver, his fourth solo album, exudes a melodical liberation, a feeling of incomprehensible vastness, a kind of emotion so indefinable it is almost dreamlike, leaving you in a dazed meditation.
From the outset, it becomes very apparent that although Carroll's traditional Irish twang continues to permeate throughout, he has been inspired by the country/folk traits of Americana that results in a diverse range of merged sounds. 'Muskingam River' tentatively layers a jaunty fingerpicked guitar beneath Carroll's trademark deep, gravelly voice, building towards a glorious incorporation of strings and drums. The metrical clicks and washes of guitar strums on 'The Fool Disguised In Fools Clothing' swathe the song in an apprehensive Western atmosphere, while lyrics like "I'm struggling to keep my fire alive" evoke feelings of a lost soul wandering through wild moors in search of that elusive "something". 'Nobody, No Nothin'' combines guitar refrains that echo America's Deep South with a violin that melodically hops around like an Irish jig, while lyrically offering the tender sentiment that "nobody, no nothin', gonna ever keep us apart." The quieter campfire-scene ballad 'They'll Never Find Us Here' is stripped back to pedal steel, accompanied by intimate backing vocals that reflect the depth of lyrical romanticism.
A sprinkling of soft pop-rock shapes '(It Was) Love Not Lust', which stands out from the album as a brisker track with a catchy chorus and a recurrent clap-along rhythm. 'The Silence I Command' is a sublime semi-acoustic track that provokes images of the rolling grasslands of America that are crossed by rivers, while 'Sat Neath Her Window' returns to the Irish folk sound. Closing the album is 'Delicate Grace', a conversational lament that realises and struggles against the difficulty of realising the end of a relationship. It leads into a piano refrain that repeats the lines, "when we're anything but" until the echo fades out so gradually, it almost makes sense to restart the album in order to re-live each moment again.
The lyrical depth and melodic variety cements Carroll as a talented, introspective songwriter as well as a heart-rending singer. Carroll has crafted an album that incorporates various, almost opposite genres of music that have influenced him throughout the years, and yet this is union is not forced or erratic, but flows seamlessly into and around each track. The different musical environments inspired by each song feels sincere and open, as he returns to the rudimentary foundations of Americana and Irish folk. Stone Beads and Silver paints a picture with every sung word, arousing a variety of emotions from within a listener. This lends a grandiose element to the album, resulting in a record that is somehow both vast and intimate, free to personal interpretation.
Each song seems to have a heart of its own that beats itself to life which, collectively, results in a soulful, highly emotive record that flourishes within your own heart. Trying to define in a single word what this record can make you feel is like trying to sail towards the line of the horizon; the closer you get, the further it appears to move away from you. And yet, perhaps it is this elusiveness that mesmerises you. Just as you're meant to appreciate a sunset without sailing towards it, Stone Beads and Silver is alive with feeling that you can embrace without necessarily understanding.