How do you fully convey feelings of love and romance through music? Well, I suppose the straight answer is you can’t. Not really. Not fully. But you can get close. Sometimes that is through the sweeping grandeur and moving majesty of classical ensembles. Sometimes it is through the deft use of the simple acoustic guitar and unadorned voice. Fred Abong posed the same question, presented himself with just such a challenge and took the latter, more straightforward route to try and fulfil the musical brief.
At a young age, he was hooked on the drama and melancholy that he heard his siblings eking out of the simple, acoustic six-string instrument. As a long-term player of the classical guitar, it is only in recent years that he felt compelled to write and record an album based on the sounds and feelings he could evoke from it. Perhaps, as he puts it, it was only when he felt truly in love that the time felt right.
And the result of this perfect timing is his sixth album, Yellowthroat. In the same way that love is not about finding perfection but about finding connection, the album is a wonderfully rough-edged beauty. There is no need for idealism and polished finishes here. Like the feeling it is portraying the simple musical pleasures of the album is its reward. Similarly, raw emotion is what the album is all about, and there is nothing found here that isn’t honest and straight from the heart.
Most songs come with little adornment, a beat here, different tones and textures added there, but by and large, a simply and concisely delivered sonic message. Tracks such as the opening salvo, Aurora, show us his ability to play with song structures, the song eventually slipping from four-four troubador busking into an off-kilter, Waitsian waltz. Fables is driven by the ebbing and flowing of anticipation and energy, though it remains relaxed and soothing, and Woods feels as if it comes from the same place as The Band’s counter-counter-culture roots revival, more 1920s than 2020s.
Fashioned from the same charm as the old fashioned-crooners, often reaching the darker, delicious depths of the likes of Leonard Cohen, still laced with that alternative edge of his earlier musical pursuits, Yellowthroat is both intimate and universally relatable. It is a tribute to new relationships and old feelings, heartache and romance, love and longing. It’s a gorgeous album, in its own way, not conventional but still wonderfully accessible.