These Trails – These Trails

January 01, 1970

(Drag
City)

 

www.dragcity.com

 

With its heady, close harmonies, its tangle of
British-folk-style acoustic guitars and its breathy invocations of the beauties
of nature, These Trails is both of
its time (early 1970s) and apart from it. A one-time collaboration between two
childhood friends, it celebrates the then-unspoiled coastal landscapes of
Kaua’i, a place where Patrick Cockett and Margaret Morgan wandered together in
their teens. The two were separated at college age. Morgan, from a wealthy
sugar family, studied Western music in California,
while Cockett an indigenous Hawaiian, learned local music traditions at
Kamehameha Schools nearer home. They reconnected in the early 1970s and
recorded this strange, lovely album in Honolulu
in 1973.

 

These Trails is
full of lyrical references to Hawaiian places. “House in Hanalei” recalls an
idyllic cottage where Cockett and Morgan once lived together. “Rusty’s House”
commemorates gatherings at the home of surfer Rusty Miller. And haunting
“Waipoo” was inspired by a hike on the rim of the Waimea Canyon.
Still, in pure sonic terms, the music in These
Trails
more closely linked to British folk revivalists like Pentangle or
Incredible String Band than anything overtly Hawaiian. The two “Psyche” tracks
– “Psyche and I Share Your Water” and “Psyche II” – follow a serpentine,
bend-filled guitar line over rustic landscapes, the weather mostly sunny but
with occasional dark flurries of minor-key picking. Morgan’s voice is
flute-like in its tremulous, breathy vibrato. She sounds like purity and
simplicity embodied in “Rapt Attention,” one of the disc’s prettiest songs, her
soprano wreathed in dizzying close harmonies. In other tracks, such as “Hello
Lou” where she sings in breezy unison with Cockett, there’s a translucence to
the vocals, as if you could see right through these brightly colored notes to
the silence behind them.

 

Yet though folk simplicity seems to be a touchstone, the
songs themselves are often elaborately arranged, with multiple guitar parts,
vocal harmonies and counterpoints. A producer, Peter Coraggio added synthesizer
and other instruments in the post-production process, so that “Hello Lou”‘s
delicate picking gives way to a viscous, synthetic keyboard sound, an effect
totally at odds with the mood so far. In later cuts, such as “Sow a Seed”,
separate elements of the song – guitar jangle, bass syncopation, breezy vocals
and space-age synths – seem to jostle for attention, rather than joining
together in any logical way. You find yourself wishing you could have heard
these songs before they got the 1970s space-folk gloss.

 

And yet, more often than note, these songs retain a
pristine, extra-terrestrial beauty that is both very early 1970s and also quite
different from the common run of folk. Listen, for instance, to the whispery
lights-and-shadow interplay of voice and flute on “Waipoo” or the dream-tinged,
wordless “ba-da-das” in “Of Broken Links” and you enter a world that is
brightly colored and swathed in mist.  It
may be a warmer more tropical landscape than the ones explored by Vashti Bunyan.
Jacqui McShee or Sandy Denny, but one that is exotically beautiful all the
same.  

 

DOWNLOAD: “Rapt
Attention” “Waipoo” JENNIFER KELLY

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