Dean McPhee – Four Stones

Dean McPhee – Four Stones

Whilst it’s been a fair while since Dean McPhee’s last full album – 2015’s darkly probing Fatima’s Hand self-released via his Hood Faire labelthe lone electric six-string explorer has been far from idle.  Besides bouts of touring, McPhee has diligently drip-fed out his wares through repeated appearances via the esoteric DIY Folklore Tapes enterprise (across several compilations and an ornithology-themed split double-10” set with Mary Arches) and on a shared lathe-cut 7” with the likeminded Seabuckthorn on the even more obscure Sonido Polifonico imprint.

Perhaps conscious of his piecemeal yields being overlooked in hidden corners, this new vinyl-only album, again on Hood Faire, rounds-up three tracks from out of print Folklore Tapes cassette collections alongside two fresh cuts.

Gratifyingly, despite Four Stones ostensibly being an oddments compendium, it hangs together with remarkable cohesion.  In fact, its five wordless pieces segue into one another as if they’d always belonged in one place.  Although recorded ‘as live’ on one guitar without overdubs, McPhee skilfully deploys an array of effects, which allow backdrop drone layers and percussion-imitating sounds to sit beneath his main guitar lines, to benevolently fool listeners that the recordings are the work of a far bigger ensemble of players and/or a more complex studio construction-process.

Admittedly, the resultant wares don’t stray too far from the crafted templates McPhee has used previously but his capable hands continue, with increasing authority, to render bleakly alluring atmospheres that both express the intimacy of a solitary artisan and the desolation of wide empty landscapes.  Hence, the opening “The Blood of St John” unfurls as a slow-motion desert-blues with a shimmering inscrutable underlay; “The Devil’s Knell” drifts along in a buzzing shadowy blur; the more sonically linear “The Rule Of Threes” pirouettes as a madrigal-like meditation; “Dance Macabre” curls yearning slide-playing around a pattern of looped melodic low-end parts; and the closing epic 14-minute title-track sprawls e-bow and slide manipulated figures across a heartbeat-pulsing percussive underbelly.

Intriguingly, whilst his influences are still traceable – with cross-references to the canons of Robert Fripp, Vini Reilly et al. still possible – Dean McPhee seems to have reached a point where they melt into the background of his still challenging yet undeniably evocative compositions, which seem to come from somewhere deeper inside than outside with each passing release.  In short, Four Stones is the product of introverted invention growing steadily stronger.

Hood Faire