Reviewed by Justin Avery
Beautiful Fountain is an album that ever so slowly burns its way into you; before long you’re hooked and wanting to relive that initial rush of warmth through your veins. Roller One beckon the listener into the deep and shifting time of each song, leaving behind the world as it is known. The intimacy of Fergus McAlpin’s voice, and the sometimes whisper of his bleak, sensual lyrics, is more than enough to hold you in this other world – one populated by emotions, people and substances that traverse the darker side of life. But there’s also enough stark beauty here to cast a subtle light into the corners of the music’s soul.
A softly strummed acoustic guitar and Adam Afiff’s artful bass playing could pass through this space alone for, as anyone who has witnessed Roller One live would attest, little more than pure song is needed. On ‘Beautiful Fountain’ though, the music does find companionship – in a female voice, viola, piano and pedal steel – allowing the sparse openness of the songs to fly high on the wing.
There’s an immediacy and ‘aliveness’ throughout the recording; the environment in which the album was made – sounds both interior and exterior – often seeps into the music. Songs seem to take shape from the rooms of a house, the creak of floorboards, casual conversation, or a vast open field, only to dissipate into the air from which they came accompanied by bird call or the crack of gunshots.
The album opens with the beautiful ‘All The Windows In This Town Are Closed’, a gentle but driven song to loves lost, forgotten and missed (No, my love I cannot grasp/ she flew too soon, she flew too fast). ‘I Saw Her There’ sets us down in the quicksand of an abandoned lover unable to crawl back to the light. At the song’s depths, McAlpin sings ‘I know that I should move on, but I can’t/cos I saw you there/But it was only a dream’; the music explodes around him, fireworks hiss and fall to the ground like rain before silence once again takes hold.
Completing this graceful descent into the songwriter’s dark heart, ‘Sea of Mundane’ flows from a loose play of double bass, piano and the distant sounds of talk around a kitchen table, before guitar and pedal steel solidify a tempo of sorts. By the time McAlpin and Amanda Roff’s vocals come in, you’re already swimming in an ocean of beautifully crafted despair the likes of which Townes van Zandt sang us into time and again. ‘My Friend, Complication’ has an almost Faustian scenario with the narrator’s personified mood coming to seal his fate. Sadness has rarely been so sweet.
It would be a disservice though to characterise Beautiful Fountain as all despair, or a mere a parade of heads and hearts aching with the hangover of broken love and emptied bottles. The wry humour of ‘Hank’ and the lovely ‘August Breeze’, where a single piano progression holds court, sit perfectly among the darkness and reveal definite glimpses of all that it bright. The album’s closer, ‘Someone Like You’, leads us out of the depths of night into a new morning. The pain of lost love finds its balm in some sense of hope for what comes to us when we open our eyes once again to the light.
This is a precious album that grows only more so over time.