Mikey Kenney & Ottersgear - The Quest for Rest (Sotones)

When they roll out the clichés about the difficulties of making the follow up album, one should really consider the privileged position of the subject/s. If we have to generalise about such things then we could say that the hardest one to make is rather the debut, for unless you get that first LP just so, you may never make another. As an emerging artist, one desires many things: a voice, confirmation of one’s own ability, a way of wrapping up half a lifetime’s worth of ideas, a way of balancing needs and expectations against the vicissitudes of the industry, the list goes on.

Released Nov 18th, 2012 / By Cloudrunner
Mikey Kenney & Ottersgear - The Quest for Rest (Sotones) Mikey Kenney hails from Liverpool, but he’s a man of nature, and a gifted multi-instrumentalist – he plays most of the instruments here, including fiddle, guitar, mandolin and banjo. His Ottersgear project is a concept that has changed over time: these initial songs for The Quest for Rest growing alongside him since their birth in the Lancastrian wilds, through their teenage demo phase, to professional maturity. In Kenney’s case, perseverance has paid off – sticking to the root idea, but refining it, has allowed him to instil a mature sense of self within the confines of the idea, and within the confines of this recording. Perhaps more importantly, by narrowing in on the songs’ very real sense of place, Kenney has filled his world, and we are left with a picture bursting with life; a fullness of sound, and a sense of completion.

Intentionally lengthy and rambling, and drawing on Kenney’s loves of folk, bluegrass, country and swing, The Quest for Rest has a unique and sustained tone, and a natural rhythm that is established from the opening title track. The blending of internal questioning, self-doubt, the personal journey, with an outward celebration of the earth and the sky, is an effortless process for this thoughtful and obviously caring songwriter. Nature itself moves from euphoria to hangover at will in Kenney’s hands, but the glorious strains of his fiddle playing and his soft lilting vibrato turn it into pure poetry.

Despite its fusion of different styles, The Quest for Rest is an English folk record; its traditional elements are stirring, heart-warmingly melodious, and never dull for a second, due largely to Kenney’s musicianship. Its grounding in the Trough of Bowland, North Lancashire, renders it timeless, a quality that is shared by Kenney’s voice. Dotted throughout the record are subtle musical nods, reference points that hint at a wider sense of knowing, a worldliness compressed; it makes for something that sounds refreshingly original and yet familiar in the way that all great folk music does. If this all sounds a bit vague, then it’s because it is also a record that has to be listened to in order for it to be understood, which is indeed a recommendation to do so, for here is a debut record that balances the losses and gains of the musician’s journey well, cleverly cramming a lot into a predefined space whilst laying the foundations for a future of his choosing. It is an album worth knowing and worth understanding; for many it will become a true companion, and I can think of no higher praise than that.