Shelleyan Orphan

Rough Trade, 1992

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer


There could be no record with its roots so firmly entrenched in folk music that is more lyrically mellifluous and exquisitely put together than Humroot. At the same time, alongside all its pastoral purity is unquestionably an exhibit of a stunning pop masterpiece. It is not just the musical intricacy of this album that is mind-blowing, but also how sharply and splendidly each detail fills its musical landscape.

The crispness of Humroot is absolutely blissful, as it allows every note played by the plentitude of musical instruments to come out and grace the musical canvas as if by divine intention. The album’s perfectionist production quality sounds anything but labored, and is similar to those on comparable musically ornate albums like The Seeds Of Lovemy_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 by Tears For Fears and Nonsuch and Apple Venus Volume 1 by XTC.

Nestled within Humroot’s rustic acoustic twangs are great pop songs, which are crafted with stylish brilliance. Tracks like “Dolphins,” “Burst,” and “Dead Cat” make Shelleyan Orphan seem like indie pop superstars of its days like The Cranberries, all the while still maintaining a strong sense of folkiness. The rest of the album, though very rustic and not overtly exciting, still possesses a little element of pop sweetness that makes it very palatable to not only the folk music crowd, but far beyond it. And Caroline Crawley’s sweet and seductive vocals make anything that she sings instantly appealing; this is truer on Humroot than on any of Shelleyan Orphan’s other records.

The percussion on this disc is one thing that cannot be commended enough. It is unarguably one of the best parts of this album, if not the best part. Boris Williams (of The Cure) is known for some of his exquisite drumming performances on classic albums by The Cure like Wish and Disintegration. But his contribution to Humroot could very well be his best work. A drummer in a rock band undoubtedly plays an important role, but in a demure folk album, where the setting is intimate, and where the singer and the poetry take center stage, what purpose does banging on things serve?

But listening to Williams’ intricate percussive work, it is almost impossible to imagine the gems on Humroot without the percussive garnishing. In what is completely antithetical to what role a drummer traditionally plays – that is, provide a muscular rhythm to a song – Williams actually provides a new level of delicateness to the numbers on this album. His percussive work on this record is ever so soft, but similar to Crawley’s soft and unimposing voice, is hard not to get mesmerized by.

Jemaur Tayle and Caroline Crawley are two really wonderful artists, but they never have, nor will they ever top their work on Humroot. Along with Boris Williams, this duo has created a very special album that is truly heavenly.

Rating: A

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