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Velvet Arrow - Album Review: Songs of Solitude

17 Nov 2023 // A review by roger.bowie

A Song Of Hope & Fear would normally be a contradiction in terms unless darkness prevails and light shines through, which is an appropriate metaphor for the debut album from Whangarei’s Velvet Arrow and the opening song, with Dan Stenhouse’s husky voice helping us through the night against a ghostly horror wail from Hannah Jane. After all it’s just a song to help you through the night, just the words that speak, it’s not real. Soft harmony comforts, but Dan’s shrill guitar suggests the dream might turn to nightmare.

"Songs of Solitude" describes the body of work, but the songs themselves suggest you are not alone. Dan and Hannah Jane have been immersed in the alt-folk darkness since they met in 2017 and found refuge from the past in melancholic melodies infused with shafts of light. Out of darkness comes light. 

Hannah writes, and sings beautifully, Dan composes, arranges and produces, and also sings in contrast, and together they make their magic, Broken Symphony, dark, sombre, silent crescendos, but ultimately soothing. You might say Songs of Solitude reflect redemption. But don’t take my songs from me. 

And history. The cracking of a needle settling into grooves, and a blues wail emerges. A song based on the Blind Willie Johnson gospel blues chant, Dark Was The Night (and the ground was cold). Rich guitars embellish a sensitive melody to tell the Blind Willie story. Where do you go if you’re black, blind and poor? History. Porch music outro. 

There’s nothing like a banjo to lift the spirits or is it just to juxtapose the threat? A woman in a red dress seeks Red Revenge from the memories of a childhood trauma, a wander through the forbidden forest just a stone’s throw from grandma’s place but miles away in safety. You know the story. Evil lurks. Beasts wander. Arrows cannot be velvet in this world. 

Dan leads the next song, watching me fall till I’m out of sight, classic alt-country, Americana noir. Taking this Troubled Mind down south. Strangely upbeat. Escape is redemption. Hollow guitars chase him away, now that’s it’s time.

But watch out, sirens sound, storm rises, it’s a Sunset & Tsunami from Over the Rhine. Follow me, I’m redemption but also, I’m safety, I’m the sunset which turns into a tidal wave, I’m sacrifice.

You Can’t Reason With A Dead Man might be a truism from most vantage points, but it’s only after a desperate plea in the moonshine hills which proves futile. You’re not dead yet, but you will be. You can’t reason with the devil. Thus, my failure is rationalized into fabulous picking on a banjo. It’s sad, but true. 

Hannah’s vocals are sensitized with Dan’s harmony, but the image is Quicksand, and it’s mental not physical, between hope and reality is the abyss, so tread with care. But help arrives with understanding and a beseeching “don’t panic.” Someone wails on a saxophone, that’s always jazz soothing, God bless the sax, especially on outro. 

Wait, there’s hope, there’s spaghetti, there’s running to the west, there’s a strangely Patti Smith tone to this banjo-tinged tale of redemption through run away, Runaway Girl. You may have seen this on video. Yes, sand dunes and escape. Yet Morricone would accentuate the sombre. Fierce guitar would contradict. Try hope instead. Because when spring arrives in bold, wild country twang, hope springs eternal and you can surely, positively Throw Me Some Hope. Some rope also. It’s been a hard year, could have been a covid year, but that’s not the only cause of hardship.

Hope springs eternal, and thus light shines through, the metaphor intact and true, and the Sunset Reprise provides a celestial conclusion to this paean of darkness to light. Thunder in this context is soothing, redemption is nigh. 

Mastered by Chris Chetland, but the credit must go to Dan and Hannah Jane for compiling this beautiful album of fear and hope and redemptive flight. Think Civil Wars meets Nick Cave, Over the Rhine to Radiohead. Think deep. 

Out now to stream but purely on vinyl…

 

About Velvet Arrow

Velvet Arrow takes you down a lost path of dark nights and lonesome dreamers…

Dan Stenhouse and Hannah Jane share a unique blend of harmony, wandering through fields of Alt-Folk into Dark Country and somewhere in between.


Visit the muzic.net.nz Profile for Velvet Arrow

Releases

Songs of Solitude
Year: 2023
Type: Album
Songs of Solitude
Year: 2020
Type: EP

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