Adam Ross – Staring At Mountains: Album Review

A delightful stripped back leap forward for Randolph’s Leap frontman Adam Ross.

Release date: 14th January 2022

Record label: Olive Grove Records

Formats: Vinyl / CD / Digital

Needing a fresh start for the new year, a palate cleanser, something to take away the taste of yet more pandemic induced solitary excess and self-pity?

You could do a lot worse than approach this spare and sparse little beauty. So who Adam Ross? Frontman and singer for Randolph’s Leap, is who, wry and witty Scottish indie-rockers inhabiting a blend of Belle and Sebastian with Camera Obscura, the sort of clever music making that seems to abound in the central belt Caledonia. This is his first solo foray, his voice and a guitar, abetted only by the fiddle of Pedro Cameron, a.ka. Man of the Minch, and some b.v.s from Jenny Sturgeon (Salt House). Nothing fancy, presented straightforwardly and altogether charming.

Nominally categorised as Ross pursuing a folkier direction, don’t let that put you off, the songs owing as much to the literate jangle derived pop of his day job, with lyrics addressing issues as disparate and earthy as alcoholism and when to have that first child. Within there is also a connecting strand of the great outdoors, wild places in his native land and the flora and fauna associated. Which suits the organic instrumentation, the singer and Cameron’s fiddle giving a shared commentary over and above one merely backing the other. Voice and strings are a dialogue. The guitar, whilst eschewing any need for any look at me flourishes, is all the ballast needed to hold the swell.

Opener, The Quiet Joys Of Parenthood is that song about parenthood decision making: “there’s nothing I would rather do than not have kids with you”, with a list of the sound reasons as to the financial and psychological wisdom of any such decision. Of course, the conclusion is almost inevitable, even if yet to happen, but many of us have been there, ahead of creating apples to fall from our tree. Having set the scene with words, it is the melody that lingers in second song, Liar, which sears into quite the ear worm, the entry of Sturgeon’s harmony midway especially uplifting. Cairngorms then encapsulates and explains the name of the album, outlining the ceaseless visual draw of the mountain landscape, showcasing his pure and delicately faltering vocal.

What Are You Doing With Your Life is more of a swagger, and one, the first, that can be envisaged in a full band setting and will be a belter live, the frantic strum a base for Cameron’s fiddle to swoop overhead. Only as you listen to the lyric comes the realisation that this addresses impotence around a friend’s drink problem, the rhythmic drive expressing the desperation. The fingerpicked Under The Radar is a return to nature, hillwalking and twitching, experiencing the simple pleasure, even if tinged by acknowledging regret around the declining bird population.

Things take a more portentous tone with The Swell; in the style of a ballad from the old (wild) west, this dwells also on loss, this time of a fishing community, and is another standout track. Beautiful. Lighter, but sticking to a coastal theme, Sanna is a distant relation of Loudon Wainwright’s Swimming Song, if transplanted from L.A. to Ardnamurchan and the stark splendour of Sanna Sands. A further slight Americana tinge reappears with Alice and Christine, a story song that brings very much to mind the style of the late John Prine at his more frivolous, praise indeed. The fiddle is rich and warm.

If perhaps these last two songs inhabit too similar a cadence, the lilting Asphalt may feel too much of the same, any issue being more the order of the songs rather than the quality, but the mix is beginning to cry out for just a little contrast. So, gratifyingly, the last song, When The Music Ends, rather than that title offering relief, this becomes the third highpoint, a swaying waltz that muses on the aftermath of a tour, with additional poignancy as the time frame has become expanded by these strange days, unrealised at the time of writing. A mournful and thoughtful song, the abrupt end perfect.

I confess to, ahead of this, having had little truck with Randolph’s Leap, something to remedy. But, irrespective of that, and regardless, Ross is yet another name to be added to the pantheon of sensitive troubadours pouring out of Scotland. I would like to see and hear more of how he can take this part of his journey forward, and wish him well on that way. Plus (seeing as I can) let me here also signpost interested listeners towards the individual work of his accompanist; Campbell’s 2021 debut recording, as Man of the Minch, The Tide Is At the Turning, which crept out only a few months ago and may have passed you by. It’s a striking blend of modern pop, electronica and celtic tradition, very much in the vein of a Gaelic John Grant. Recommended.

Here’s a totally solo version of opening track, Quiet Joys Of Parenthood:

Adam Ross online: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Instagram

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