By Graham Chalmers
Karl Culley: Stripling (album)
Quietly without fuss Harrogate singer-songwriter Karl Culley has been carving a unique place for himself in acoustic music for a good decade or so.
Although indebted in some ways to pioneers of the past who brought a quirky, intelligent, English flavour to folk-blues – Bert Jansch, John Martyn, Nick Drake – the quietly charming Culley has created his own sound, ploughing a furrow of his own
Released on Sound of Jura records, Stripling is Culley’s fourth album proper and his most spartan in sound to date. It’s also his best.
An intimate blend of the earthy, the metaphysical and the almost sensual, this time round it’s just Culley, his guitar and his voice.
The boyish-looking Culley, who started his musical life in an indie rock band in the 1990s, still sounds like a high plains drifter travelling a desolate landscape nourished solely by the idea of love.
But this time round, freshly married and a little older, the intensity is more nuanced, the impressively agile finger-picking less frenetic and the vocals warmer.
He even has time to show off his playful side on a couple of memorably jovial tracks - Come Over To Me and If We Were Free.
Once the very definition of haunted, Culley has his darker moments but they’re almost always lifted by lovely circling melodies delivered with a wonderfully percussive guitar style and deliciously melancholy, almost crooning vocals.
I can’t think of anyone in the UK today writing better acoustic songs than Stripling’s three greatest moments – Namesake, School of the Heart and, especially, Infinity Pool.
Something to live with and love, Stripling already sounds like acoustic album of the year.