Danny Norbury: Light In August

Danny Norbury has contributed cello playing to recordings by The Boats and Le Lendemain (his duo project with David Wenngren aka Library Tapes), but with Light In August, we get a chance to hear the Manchester-based musician's artistry in all its solo glory—or should I say a second chance, given that flau's release is a reissue edition that includes bonus material, specifically his first EP Dusk (Static Caravan, 2006) plus “Fragment 2” (from Bluebeard, Wist Rec, 2012). Filled as it is with eighteen classical miniatures, Light In August is, without question, a comprehensive portrait of someone whose recorded presence in collaborative contexts has been somewhat self-effacing. Light In August, on the other hand, positions Norbury front and center to marvelous effect.

As much as the cello is emphasized in these pieces, Light In August is not a solo cello recording. Instead, Norbury acts as as a one-man ensemble in presenting the pieces as multi-layered strings-and-piano settings (“Pedal” changes things up slightly in adding music box-like tinkles). If one didn't know any better, one would assume that the recording features Norbury as the cello soloist backed by a string ensemble and pianist rather than the work of a single individual. At times, the dust-covered piano drops out altogether (such as during “Aspen Trees” and “Light in August”), leaving in its glorious wake strings only; “I Turn off the Last Light and Close the Door,” by contrast, eschews strings to concentrate on keyboards alone.

Litterateurs will, of course, recognize the album title as the same one Faulkner chose for one of his greatest works, though precisely why Norbury selected it for his isn't clear (titling another track “Speak, Memory” suggests Norbury's drawn inspiration from Vladimir Nabokov, too). Certainly the darkness and foreboding embodied by the novel's protagonist Joe Christmas doesn't permeate the spirit of the recording, whose elegies are typically uplifting, warmhearted, and, frankly, lovely. In representative settings such as “All the Stars Are out Tonight,” “Love Woke Me Up,” and “This Night Is for You and for Me,” Norbury's plaintive cello lines sing out so stirringly, one would have to be emotionally barren not to be affected by them. If you (like me) for whatever reason didn't hear the release when it first appeared in 2009 on Lacies Records, here is a wonderful second chance to experience Norbury's artistry. A more flattering portrait of his gifts would be hard to imagine.

May 2014