Brexit affects more than just Britain, as poignantly shown by Scottish composer Richard Luke on Glass Island. The referendum has sent shock waves around Europe, as has Scotland’s drive for independence. But Luke’s take is different. He describes these songs as having “confidence and strength, but also a fragility and drama that makes them almost wistful and nostalgic.” Moderna Records cites “an ever-growing optimism.” What is there to be optimistic about? Very little, say many. This is why we need the few: artists willing to dream, not as Polyannas but as people who believe in the human spirit and its capacity for triumph.
Luke turns out to be pretty good at describing his own music. We recently shared “Everything a Reason,” the album’s opening track and first single. The piece works as an overture, melancholic yet resolute. This mixture of moods is due in great part to co-composer Amira Bedrush-Mcdonald, who balances Luke’s piano with violin. The title of this track is similar to a Christian saying that “everything happens for a reason” (attributed to Marilyn Monroe!). The saying is comforting to some, while it causes others to bristle. Still, it’s never delivered with intent to harm, and the same is true here. Luke and Bedrush-McDonald seek to empathize, comfort and reassure. Kirsty Matheson rounds out the crew with double bass on three tracks, while sparse electronics keep the tone from growing saccharine. Are these referendums progress or regression? It matters not, these artists seem to be saying: concentrate not on the policies, but the people.
The melancholy lifts toward the end of “Décembre” with the appearance of a particularly overt string motif, followed by the lighter “Eich Bhàna,” the track named after a Scottish whiskey. We’ll still have whiskey, won’t we? We will, which may be why the surges of “Freda” imply wordless song. The glass island seems fragile, but not all glass breaks. Sometimes we protect the most fragile of things with the softest of gloves. Luke treats his subject matter gently, not with anger or hysteria but the empathy one might direct at a loved one with a broken heart. Soft rain falls in “Ghosted,” but birds also sing. The artist’s final statement: breathe. (Richard Allen)