Ed Dowie is perhaps one of the more unassuming members to enter into Isle of Eigg’s enigmatic label Lost Map. His sound straddles both the uplifting and somber, displaying an eerily captivating approach to folk music that often feels much larger than the sum of its parts.
Whilst Dowie’s solo career only began in 2012, his musical lineage stretches back further, to the grandeur of choir halls and pipe organs. He first learned the piano and organ as a child from his father, before becoming a chorister and an organist in Dorset. In 1998 he became part of Brothers In Sound, a psychedelic-dub-pop band from Bournemouth. These primary sounds of his formative years emanate from his debut LP, The Uncle Sold: hymn-like compositions guided by the warmth of a Casio’s tonal simplicity.
The Uncle Sold takes its title from the 1995 Kazou Ishiguro novel ‘The Unconsoled’, a book that takes the reader on a continually evolving, dream-like journey around a non-specified city. Dowie attempts to draw inspiration from these themes, as the record paintings a picture of a range of characters struggling for certainty in a metropolis beset by the continually changing forces intrinsically linked to urban life. The record itself holds a tonal continuity as the backdrop for these shifting narratives.
Tracks like ‘David is Unwell’ and ‘May For A Dead Queen’ appear to serve as personal stories of the lives of unseen faces in the crowd. Dowie makes the mundane magical, and there’s a feeling that he’s putting these characters into the limelight. Coupled with the imagery it conjures – expansive night and grandiose landscapes – a parallel was drawn with the dream-woven chronicles of Dylan Thomas’ ‘Under Milk Wood’, wherein he exposes the inner thoughts and troubles of sleepy townsfolk in a Welsh seaside village.
More existential concepts also seem to crop up, pitched against familiar characters and stories of drifting apart, as in ‘Richard’. Perhaps the most upbeat song of the record, it seems to be pulling the central character back to his own righteous path: “Richard, just listen, come back, you’ve drifted apart from your morals.” These haunting journeys also take form in ‘Red or Grey’, as the listener gets the impression that the difference between calmness and chaos is only an inch, and perhaps they operate concurrently with one another.
Ultimately, there’s a continuity that binds the songs on The Uncle Sold, like bookmarks at the end of a comprehensive collection of literature. Dowie’s choral arrangements and sparing key progressions contribute to this, but so does the lyrical content and sentiment. It uses classic musical tools and summons the spirit of artists like Robert Wyatt and Arthur Russell, but on the same hand feels entirely perfect in its simplicity. Here Dowie delivers a highly contemplative collection of songs with musicality that he owns from decades of service to his craft.