Elaine Morgan,
Shine On
(self-produced, 2002)

Elaine Morgan's Shine On is a dangerous album. With simple lyrics, it could just be another pleasant Celtic-inspired set of tunes. But beyond the simple beauty of the music, over the touching poetry of the lyrics, Shine On layers a powerful, entrancing spell: Elaine Morgan's voice.

Not everything about Shine On is perfect. A hefty amount of album space is devoted to songs with an environmental/anti-progress theme. "The Falcon's Song," "Evensong" and "Waterwheel" all pound home the same point: wild places are vanishing, it's humanity's fault and it's tragic. I agree with much of her message, but it's not well delivered here. Except for the poetic "Waterwheel," the lyrics aren't really anything that hasn't been said before and done better. It doesn't matter. Morgan could sing the phonebook and it would still be captivating.

When she strays from the overstrained environmental theme, Morgan's songwriting takes on dreamlike poetic subtlety that still manages to paint a clear, concise picture. The opening "Bright Lights" is a standard tale of an artist failing to make it in the big city. Hearing it sung by Morgan gives it an ironic twist; there's no way that voice could ever fade into the shadows. "The Rock," which feels like a companion piece to "Shine On," works as a love song while taking on an almost gospel reverence for its subject. "Shine On" itself starts out sounding almost like a love song. Its memorial nature only comes through in glimpses, making it seem like a speech to someone still present. "Halls Of Fame," an almost purely vocal piece, shows the bright reflection of the faces and hearts that shape a life even after they fade away. The slight touch of organ gives it the feeling of a church hymn. And lest the album turn so spiritual it floats away, "Loch Coruisk" whispers steamy curtains over a deceptively innocent love song.

The instrumental work throughout Shine On is unobtrusive, patient and thoughtful. The liquid tones "The Falcon's Song" and the surprising Celtic blues feel of "Birthday Blues" are minor treasures in their own right. The one purely instrumental piece, "The Morgans of Eglwysilan," shows off the skill of the players and the delicacy of the composition to fine effect. Unfortunately for those instruments, on the rest of the album they are competing with Morgan's voice, and it simply puts them to shame.

I admit to being possessive of a cappella time on this album. I came to outright resent the instruments for taking away time and attention from that voice. Happily for me, there's a good portion of pure lyrical joy on Shine One, from the sad "Bright Lights" to the bright "Halls Of Fame." Those who don't become so addicted to Morgan's voice will find even more to cherish in the varied and deceptively quiet instruments that support most of the songs.

The only downside to this album is that once you hear it, you won't just want more of her music. You will require it. As for me, I have an album to hear again.

- Rambles
written by Sarah Meador
published 8 February 2003

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