It’s not often we come across a record as carefully crafted as Travelling Bright, the second full-length release from Welshman David Ian Roberts. It is an album in the truest sense - a journey - an immersive and hypnotic journey into a glittering world of acoustic delights. Travelling Bright is designed to be taken in at one sitting and is therefore fittingly available as a double LP, and if you’ve an hour to spare, not only could it take you places, it could also help you fall back in love with the forgotten act of sitting still and listening to some nice vinyl.
Roberts’ 2014 debut, St Clears, was likewise an exquisitely-wrapped bundle of acoustic guitar-led gentleness, owing much to the mighty Nick Drake. Travelling Bright is a continuation of that sound but is altogether more assured and more ambitious in its scope. A highly accomplished guitarist, Roberts dresses his arrangements traditionally, with weaving cellos, dulcimers, ethereal backing vocals and light-touch drums. This lushness is in turn countered by the humility (and Britishness) of the lead vocal. That’s not to say that the territory is folky and safe: the harmonic ambition of the songs is on a par with that of Elliott Smith, Ben & Jason and Pete Aves. Equally, the guitar playing is no less remarkable; it’s steeped in Jansch and Drake as you might expect but there are wider influences to be found too: the nimble fingers of Eric Roche, Nick Harper and even Nuno Bettencourt (yes, him) can all be traced through Travelling Bright.
As well as guitar Mr Roberts also plays an array of other instruments on the album (including all the drums), leaving double bass and piano to Aidan Thorne and Daan Temmink respectively. Kirsten Miller’s arresting, ever-present cello is also integral to the record’s sound, coming to the fore on ‘Lulling a Greener Man’ and the stirring instrumental ‘Carillon’.
There is a balance of Simon & Garfunkel solemnity and John Martyn haziness on tracks like ‘Grail’ and ‘Sending Out Fires’ and there’s more than a shade of CSN&Y in ‘The Holloway’; while the watery triplets of personal favourite ‘Amber’ offer something more directly emotional.
A cynic might dismiss the record’s lyrics, taken alone, as the stream-of-consciousness script for a new age self-help meditation cassette but the quality and depth of the accompanying music leaves you in no doubt that this record is nothing other than completely genuine. Someone with a more open mind would therefore argue that Travelling Bright is actually the sort of record that ought to be available on prescription as an effective therapy for an array of clinical sorrows. It's certainly the kind of medicine I’d prefer if I found myself in those darkest of places.
Like much of what is found under the folk umbrella, this album is firmly rooted in the pastoral. This overarching connection to the natural world, along with the impeccable standard of musicianship here, is sure to please fans of the British folk sound embodied by the likes of Tess Jones and John Smith. Many of the songs will meander too much for those in search of a quick musical hit but if you have the time and headspace to give yourself over to it, Travelling Bright will provide more long-term satisfaction than most. If you let it, it will take you out of this place and into another. Like I said, not so much a record… as a total trip.
Review by Rich Barnard