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Neilson Hubbard - Cumberland Island

  by John Clarkson

published: 26 / 11 / 2018

Neilson Hubbard - Cumberland Island
Label: Proper Records
Format: CD


Evocative album from Neilson Hubbard which takes its inspiration from the remote Cumberland Island off the Atlantic coastline of Georgia where he and his new wife Audrey spent the first day of their married life

On the 11th September 2016 Neilson Hubbard and his new bride Audrey travelled to Cumberland Island, which is the largest of the Sea Islands off the Atlantic coastline of Georgia. They had been married the day before. The island is host to the Carnegie mansion, which burnt down in 1959, and a band of wild horses which have according to myth inhabited the island since the sixteenth century. Hubbard and Audrey, who was then five-and-a-half months pregnant with their first child, a son, spent their first afternoon as husband and wife, sitting beside the ruins and watching the horses playing. This most romantic of days, and the island in its rugged beauty, provides the central focus for ‘Cumberland Island’. Hubbard has been in the bands Spoon, This Living Hand and Strays Don’t Hand as well as country folk super group the Orphan Brigade. He is best known, however, for his production work with artists including Kim Richey and Mary Gauthier, but has had also had an on-off solo career lasting over twenty years. ‘Cumberland Island’, which was recorded in a week, is his fifth solo album and first in ten years. There is an element of Van Morrison in Hubbard on ‘Cumberland Island’. He has a similar sense of earthy spirituality and the ability to capture love and nature in their highest of forms. The beautiful, self-titled opening track sets the tone for much of what is to follow. A lush, softly unravelling combination of acoustic guitar, gusty violin and rippling mandolin, it tells of the magic of that day on Cumberland Island (“See the horses running/See the horses running on Cumberland Island/For all that we have, for all we’ve forgotten/Don’t you know that wherever your road begins I’ll follow to the end”). The hymnal ‘My Heart Belongs to You’, built around stark shimmers of piano, is similarly focused (“Until the end this is true/My heart belongs to you”), and the breezy ‘If the Sun Comes up Tomorrow’ jangles with optimism (“But this one thing I know is true/if the sun is comes up tomorrow I’ll be right here with you”). There is always a danger with romantic-themed albums such as this one that they may end up too saccharine, but Neilson is, however, too strong a songwriter to fall into that easy trap. For every song focusing on their hopeful long future together, there is another one in which the hope is still there but there is something more fragile also, and it is apparent that Hubbard and Audrey have got to the place where they are through hard work and not without some trauma along the way. The tender ‘Don’t Make Me Walk Though This World on My Own’, based again around a balladic piano and throwing in peals of horn, finds Hubbard at his most vulnerable and exposed (“Make me a liar Inside of my home/But don’t make me walk through this life on my own”). ‘Let it Bleed’ was co-written with Audrey and features piano again, strings and throws in gorgeous female backing vocals. It is equally fragile, describing that moment most of us in relationships go through at some point in which there has been a horrible row, and there is a lot of making up to do. (“It’s just a big empty room/Filled with words I’ll never use/In between my head and feet/A broken mess lies beneath/Please come back to me”). Redemptive and traditional country-folk number ‘Oh Black Water’ uses water as a symbol to find Hubbard baptised and cleansed by his love (“Oh black river/Drown me here and I will be reborn”), and the album is closed with the sparse, minimalist ‘For My Love’ which ends it on a note of further hope (“Little house on the corner/Drive by there somedays/Want to carry you across that threshold and that’s where we would stay/Oh my love/Oh my love”). The album comes in stunning packaging with sepia-tinged photographs taken by Hubbard of Cumberland Island and its horses, and the music throughout is equally sublime. ‘Cumberland Island’ is one of the most life-affirming and beautiful-sounding albums of the year.

Track Listing:-
1 Cumberland Island
2 Save You
3 My Heart Belongs to You
4 Can't Look Away
5 Don't Make Me Walk Through This World on My Own
6 If the Sun Comes Up Tomorrow
7 That Was Then
8 How Much Longer Can We Bend
9 Let It Bleed
10 Oh Black River
11 For My Love

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