Now that we’re into the summer holiday season, the great Cornish coast is again at risk of reaching our yearly sunburnt-holidaymaker quota, each vying to find the most tranquil destination but still prepared to share it with half of the country. It’s a frustrating period for the natives, where the price of admission overrules tradition, and heritage is buried under a pile of plastic windmills and crab lines, but that makes a release like The Grenaways’ debut Be Still Young Heart – one that lives and breathes Cornwall – that much more vital.
Opener ‘Son of Dust’captures that vitality perfectly – beginning like a traditional shanty and soundtracked by the great outdoors, it transforms into a kind-of Celtic waltz that ebbs back and forth like a wave in a harbour. Lead single ‘Am I Jonah’is more tense and fraught, propelled relentlessly by the rhythm section, and only resolves for a moment at the half-way mark. It’s a brave arrangement for the initial single, but the trim nature of the song is a confident statement.
Further down the line, ‘Pura Vida’ stands as a towering peak in the middle of the record, that gains in grandiosity as each instrument edges its way into the arrangement. Ramping up the sorrow, the melancholic horn section is placed impeccably, echoing vocalist Kris Lannen’s “take the road from San José” like we’re hearing the very voice of the city. Knowing that The Grenaways’ have added a trumpet player to the line-up makes hearing this song live an especially exciting prospect.
Other songs are rattled off with varying degrees of success – ‘Port Isaac’does well to break the pace of the record, whereas ‘Not My Heart’doesn’t feel far enough away from ‘Son of Dust’to really justify its inclusion. No criticism of the song itself, it just doesn’t say anything that hasn’t already been said.
At fifty minutes long, Be Still Young Heart is a hefty listen, but stick it through and you’ll be rewarded with a fantastic three-song run at the end of the album. The first, ‘Day After Day’ is a beautifully-paced ramble, like the sun bleaching the sea as it comes to rest on the horizon. Penultimate ‘Brother‘ is reserved for when the sun has finally set – a time-at-the-bar jig propped up by a few choice guitar lines and an infectious, sing-along chorus. Slow-burner ‘Be Still Young Heart’, the final song on the record, gently edges up and up, but refuses to break through entirely. Coming around full circle, the band touch upon the gentle Celtic nuances that were introduced during track one – it’s a lovely, well-measured end to the record.
It’s obvious Be Still Young Heart isn’t a shallow attempt to jump on the folk bandwagon championed by Mumford & Sons and similar pop-folk flag-bearers. Instead, this feels like a proper folk band with an alternative edge – intrinsically tied to the sea, the county, and the church. Given that the band were born and nurtured within Polzeath’s Tubestation, a surfers’ church run in-part by Lannen, it’s hardly surprising. It’s true that, for me, some of the ecclesiastical references passed me by – for every ocean, sea and sunset, there’s a Father, Brother and Jonah – but Be Still Young Heart never feels exclusive. Instead, there’s a thread of hope throughout the record that can be interpreted whichever way you choose, and if that’s the least to be taken from the album, then that is worth the purchase price alone.
Be Still Young Heart is available to buy via https://itunes.apple.com/gb/album/be-still-young-heart/id894534701