Stranded Horse will be playing End Of The Road Festival 2012.
“Humbling Tides” is the second album in the unique kora/guitar/vocal songwriting idiom explored by Yann Tambour, now known as Stranded Horse (formerly Thee, Stranded Horse and Encre).
Written largely during a spell living in Bristol, UK and recorded in the serene coastal environs of Normandy in North-West France, “Humbling Tides” continues along the path embarked upon with “Churning Strides” (released as Thee, Stranded Horse in 2006), effecting subtle but significant changes to a musical formula that finds Tambour melting disparate musical modes and cultures – shades of the mandinka tradition of West Africa, medieval folksong, Fahey-esque fingerpicking, French chanson and more can be discerned – into one bold, fluid and graceful new form.
This album witnesses the recorded debut of two self-built “travel” koras (the full-size versions proving a little unwieldy when touring places like China on over-populated trains…), but it’s not just the fabric of the instruments that bears Tambour’s distinctive personality: his playing and compositional style on what is a daunting musical tool to master for a western musician is now entirely his own, a development Yann himself attributes in no small part to his ongoing work with one of the modern greats of the kora, Mali’s Ballaké Sissoko (best known to UK ears for “New Ancient Strings” the seminal duo album with Toumani Diabaté), whose playing adorns the majestic finale of “Shields”, the album’s most immediate track. “Sharing the stage with Ballaké on many occasions has taught me a lot. I started off as playing the kora like a guitarist, but by further exploring the kora, my approach to the guitar has changed as well … I basically learnt to get rid of a few rigid western rhythmic constraints, pay attention to the surroundings and play accordingly.”.
Set to record, and combined with what Yann describes as his “daily musical moodswings”, this approach makes “Humbling Tides” a record of sublime contrasts, the sort one can only really cherish through surveying a landscape at length: early on we find moments of studied, concise and almost conventional songwriting such as “Shields” and “Les Axes Déréglés”, but venture deeper and things get freer, more instinctive and nomadic – see the album’s two sprawling, masterfully executed epics, “Jolting Moon” and the closing “Halos”, the outro of which evidences the heights of Tambour’s kora dexterity.
Then there’s the vocal style, a talking point for many on “Churning Strides”. Where that record found Tambour pointedly playing with T-Rexian vocal affectations – even down to a wondrously spare cover of Bolan’s “Misty Mist” – “Humbling Tides” is where he finds his natural voice, more distanced narrator than preacher (hence the loss of the somehow accusatory “Thee…”), plotting gently surrealist, at points faux-naive and childish lyrics in English and French over his velvetine compositions, augmented for the first time by cello and violin arrangements courtesy of Joseph Roumier and Carla Pallone.
Intriguingly, while the “Thee, Stranded Horse” project was conceived as a conscious break from his previous work as Encre (4 albums of more sample-based material released in the early part of the century), Yann views the first Stranded Horse album as a partial move back towards his earlier work, in spirit at least: “Humbling Tides”, then, in some ways marks the closing of the circle on what is, to date, a formidable and diverse body of work.