When Hilary Woods left JJ72 in 2003 you could be forgiven for thinking it was a bad move. It was, after all, a band very much fronted by Mark Greaney who acted as vocalist, lead guitarist and chief songwriter. It’s not as though many bassists from such bands go on to achieve success after leaving (and don’t go pointing out Paul McCartney to me; you know that’s a special case).
It may have taken ten years but Woods, under her guise as The River Cry, has proved that the woman voted Melody Maker’s Sexiest Woman in Rock in 2000 is more than just a pretty face. Debut album ‘The River Cry’ is evidence of that. The album, full of haunting pianos and vocals, may not be perfect, but is certainly intriguing for the 30 minute length of its running time.
Openers While I Lie and Sleep Baby Sleep are almost nothing but sparse piano and echoed vocals that appear to be just about audible through the ether. The ethereal vocals maintain almost throughout but, as the album continues, more substance develops in the piano. Certainly, the second half of September Lights and all of Honeymoon seem to have a definite piano riff, while closer Raise the Red Lantern sees the piano played with a sense of purpose not there at the beginning of the album.
That’s not to say that the start of the album is lacking, however. There is a enveloping dreamy quality to it and occasionally some brilliant lyrics. On While I Lie, a song about a break-up for example, Woods sings “If I’d have stayed out the vultures would have preyed on every thread I’m woven with.” To the Sea is perhaps the most atmospheric, sounding as it does like a dreamy walk through a haunted forest; the echoed spoken opening only adds to the feeling.
It’s not all good though. Miaow, stuck in the middle of the album, is a bit of a meandering mess. Lyrics “The cats cry; can’t you empathise,” may work on their own, but the accompaniment of both Woods and a cat, well, miaowing makes the whole thing a bit too much to subscribe to.
Its taste doesn’t linger however, and the ominously foreboding The Devil Knows is next up. The flat, repeating of guitar and the crashing of guitars and symbols cause a sonic storm that is hard to resist. As the lyrics go “The devil knows you won’t say no.” This almost overbearing behemoth of a song is perhaps the highlight of the album.
For many, this album with prove a little to sparse and airy but, if you’re willing to accept these attributes, ‘The River Cry’ is for the most part a powerful and engaging effort. Woods’ musical career didn’t end with JJ72. Let’s hope The River Cry doesn’t end with this debut effort.