The Owl Service (named after the 1967 mythological Welsh novel by British author, Alan Garner) is predominantly the work of multi-instrumentalist, Steven Paul Collins from Essex. His debut EP opens with a pounding, heart-beating drum that soon melts into a forlorn piano motif before chiming bells and a blazing electric guitar stroll across the landscape on the almost Native American-sounding title track. A jaunty violin forms the backbone of the traditional tale of ?The Two Magicians,? an upbeat, rocking folker akin to Fairport Convention with the poppier overtones of Flyte Reaction (aka Mick Crossly).
The dreamy strains of a sitar blend effortlessly with some West Coast-styled guitar picking, a la Country Joe & The Fish and Spirit on the brief instrumental, ?Interlude I.? A heartwarming piano solo introduces Rebsie Fairholm?s melancholic, breathy vocals on Lal Waterson?s ?Fine Horsemen,? although Collins admits his version is based more on Anne Briggs arrangement (check out her ?The Time has Come? LP). An omnipresent bell tinkles in the background of this late night lullaby and a gently-picked acoustic guitar cascades like a warm waterfall across your body on the second brief respite, ?Interlude II.?
The disk?s centerpiece, the ten-minute ?By The Setting of The Sun? opens with an ominous thousand-yard stare of an acoustic guitar gently picking up the pieces of your broken heart. Soon, a sitar floats into the background, wrapping itself around the tender strains of Collins? gently weeping electric guitar. Imagine Craig Williamson (Lamp of the Universe) enjoying a backstage smoke with B?Eirth (In Gowan Ring) and Prydwyn (Green Crown, Stone Breath). [Collins cheerfully admits that the track is an attempt to pay tribute ?to as many of our influences in one song as it?s possible to do? and, while he coyly only suggests, ?I think we nearly succeeded,? I wouldn?t be so modest. You definitely did!] The track ends on a snare-driven, dirgy drum stroll that combines the tentative funeral march of Joy Division with the aimless ennui of ?Suicide Trilogy?-era Cure (i.e., ?Faith?/?Seventeen Seconds?/?Pornography?), and brings us full circle back to that opening drumbeat. A quiet, contemplative work of art that?ll warm the cockles of any cold, cold heart and is essential listening for fans of the gentler side of psychedelic wyrdfolkers, In Gowan Ring, Stone Breath, and Prydwyn, as well as the German contingent, Fit & Limo and The Cosmic Gardeners.
[Note: While the microscopic original print run of 100 copies is long sold out, you can still obtain the EP exclusively via the excellent legal download service at Woven Wheat Whispers.] 9/10 -- Jeff Penczak (6 March, 2007)