Whilst touring during the early months of 2018 in support of Broken Stay Open Sky, their fourth album and first for label Paradise of Bachelors, Red River Dialect uncovered a new depth of communication in their playing, and the follow-up bears the fruit. Abundance Welcoming Ghosts finds the British folk-rock band relaxing into a natural, playful confidence: tangling with the thickets, wading in the river, digging the peat, and disappearing into the mountains. It was recorded at Mwnci Studios, in a quiet valley in Southwest Wales, during four days in August 2018, just a month before the band’s songwriter David Morris left the UK for a nine-month meditation retreat at a remote Buddhist monastery on the cliffs of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. This plan had not yet taken shape when he wrote these songs during the spring of 2018. By the time the band reached the studios, the imminent hiatus lent a poignant and celebratory atmosphere to the sessions. The compositions had not been fully formed prior to recording, but any pressure was transmuted into invigoration, resulting in the jubilant energy that adorns even the most turbulent songs.
The album title gestures towards a fullness that the songs fulfill, a sonic and lyrical plenitude, but any density achieved by the band opens up further space. This expansiveness bears testament to the skill of long-term collaborator and guide Jimmy Robertson (Michael Chapman, Arctic Monkeys, Depeche Mode), who engineered and mixed the songs. Guest musicians Joan Shelley, who sings the hidden spaces on "Snowdon" and "Piano," and Tara Jane O’Neil (Rodan, the Sonora Pine), who plays sweet aching slide guitar on “My Friend,” complement the core sextet. Ed Sanders’ violin alternates between soaring with crisp highland sadness on "BV Kistvaen" and burying jaws into the flesh of songs like "Salvation." Coral Kindred-Boothby’s bass swings the anchor in deep blue fathoms, but frequently dances up to the clouds; she sings heart-swelling, radiant harmonies on "My Friend." Lead guitarist Simon Drinkwater weaves spry and subtle lines just under the surface of the ocean, breaking for gasps of air and bicycle kicks, slicing the air on "Snowdon" and "Blue Sparks." Kiran Bhatt rides the drums out to all the cardinal points, tapping high bright stars on "Piano" and pulsing with the circular tide on "Two White Carp." Robin Stratton has one hand rummaging in the swamp around "Red River" and the other under a waterfall on “Slow Rush”; his piano and organ playing flow like water into both rhythm and lead roles.
There are songs about finding oneself a mountain and finding mountain summits disappearing. The thread of mourning that has long held sway in Morris’ songwriting, particularly on 2015’s Tender Gold and Gentle Blue, is not fully unravelled. There are familiar questions about allegiances to caution and pensiveness, but the songs edge ever closer to abandoning restraints, including the desire to achieve coherence in meaning as some form of salvation. The path of healing continues to draw the attention of Morris’ lyrics, which traverse a blurring of outer and inner landscapes. The sun, the moon, and the six elements of fire, water, earth, wind, space, and consciousness dance across these two realms. Love for friends, family, old flames, and old ghosts burns brightly and sometimes fiercely. Regarding the title, he points to a quote attributed to the eleventh century Tibetan spiritual master Machig Labdrön,
"In other traditions demons are expelled externally. But in my tradition demons are accepted with compassion."
The act of naming and being named threads through the album. Notably, the song “Red River” narrates the history of the tongue from which the band take their name, and the colonial dynamic replicated in the process. Tombs on Dartmoor, tenor bells in Wales, and locations from dreams expand the physical, temporal, and psychic landscape. Wales also inhabits the evocative paintings of Jane Hope, which adorn the covers. Her compositions are inspired by and drawn from tales found in the Mabinogion, the ancient cycle of Welsh legends, but are also informed by irrupting subconscious imagery and the sensation of timeless symbolic forces finding old friends. In this weaving of archaic tradition and a felt sense of the unknown nowness, these paintings echo the way that Red River Dialect peer back at their British folk and folk-rock forebears, from Fairport Convention and Jackie Leven to Talk Talk.
The band will be re-uniting to play these songs in the latter part of 2019, when Morris hands back his monk’s robes and leaves the monastery, almost a year after this album was recorded.