To use newspaper parlance, Miranda Lee Richards buried the lead on her new album. “The First Light of Winter” should have been the opening track off Echoes of the Dreamtime, her breathtaking third album. The dark reverb drenched Telecaster ostinato that opens the track instantly sets a mood that could have been the opening theme of True Detective. “I’ve been travelin’ down a dark road. Goin’ places no one knows,” sings Richards in a voice that’s imperious, ethereal and darkly hued, letting us know we are in for a journey. Hurricane Katrina lurks in the metaphorical background with lyrics about levees breaking (though they promised “it would last”) and writing letters to the government. But ultimately it’s a song about heading down; a bleak, blues-soaked look at a future that doesn’t hold promise. “Grab the line before you hit the bottom” she sings.
Miranda Lee Richards’s life hasn’t been so bleak. Her parents were underground comic writers in the 1970s. Metallica’s Kirk Hammett gave her guitar lessons, and she was discovered by Anton Newcombe of The Brian Jonestown Massacre. Her husband, producer/guitarist Rick Parker, worked with the alt-rock Black Rebel Motorcycle Club. That’s a pretty intense launching pad for this 40 year old musician who has just released her best album.
“It Was Given”
Between the Brian Jonestown Massacre connection and her cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Dandelion” on her debut 15 years ago, Richards’ psychedelic roots are as apparent as a black light poster. The album cover for Echoes of the Dreamtime is pure 60s flowerchild: an illustration of the singer centers it like a cameo, her long hair actually bedecked in flowers, surrounded by stars. Her name and the album title curve around her in a dappled psychedelic font. Even the title, Echoes of the Dreamtime, suggests an altered state of consciousness, visions from beyond. That’s what Miranda Lee Richards delivers to entrancing effect.
But not before she gets some laid-back LA rock sound out of her system on the first three tracks. “Tokyo’s Dancing” and “Little Radio”, sound like songs Jackson Browne or the Eagles might have sung 40 years ago. They all have a joyful, lazy afternoon feel, with fine guitar playing by Rick Parker and some nice touches, like the mellotron flutes on the opening track, “7th Ray.” But then we start “travelin’ down the dark road” and the voyage really begins, as “First Light of Winter” signals a change of direction.
“Julian” is a beautiful song that recalls England’s Pentangle, a great acoustic folk-fusion group from the 60s and 70s. Richards deploys real electric sitar and sampled tamboura and santoor over a loping tabla rhythm. But the story is bleak, a song about miscommunication between two people who probably shouldn’t be in the same room, let alone a relationship together.
Yet, it’s not all dark for Richards. In fact, there’s quite a dose of lysergic sunshine on the album. “Colours So Fine” rings out with Byrds-style electric 12-string guitar as Richards trips through lyrics of affirmation and new consciousness. Likewise, “Already Fine” is a lullaby dressed in chamber strings in which life is beautiful.
“Colours So Fine”
“It Was Given” is the centerpiece of the album, a heart-rending song inspired by the movie, “The White Ribbon,” directed by Michael Haneke. She uses his story of the onset of World War I in Germany to tell a tale of lost innocence, redemption and forgiveness, taking it beyond the film’s bleak ending. The song is a gradual eight minute build that moves from slow, musical-saw echoes, through timpani and mandolins, and concludes on Paul Hoaglin’s soaring pedal steel guitar affirmations.
Miranda Lee Richards’ Echoes of the Dreamtime is a near perfect song cycle from a singer songwriter who is, to quote her own song, “already fine.”