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Albums of 2012 – 17. Patrick Wolf – ‘Sundark and Riverlight’

Tori Amos; Kate Bush; Peter Gabriel: all ambitious artists who (at some point) have released rework albums, all in equal measure an influence upon folk troubadour Patrick Wolf. It’s unsurprising then, that after a decade in the music industry comes his own collection. Entitled Sundark and Riverlight, it’s a double-album of acoustic re-recordings of his most dark and long-standing work, taking three songs from each of his five genre-spanning records (plus one track from his recent EP Brumalia for good measure) and reappraising them with a more mature creative angle.

He does well to keep the production work as sparse as possible. Like his accompanying 10th anniversary tour (also acoustic-focused), the focus is primarily on Wolf’s penchant for songcraft and ability to convey a narrative. Peel back the layers of the likes of Paris and Oblivion, and you’ll find some well-structured folk tales. More politically driven numbers such as Hard Times and Bermondsey Street benefit from new lyrics and spoken-word sections – courtesy of Buffy St Marie and Wolf’s Russian fans respectively. Meanwhile, Wolf Song, one of his oldest and most poignant pieces, still feels as raw as it ever did on his eight-year-old debut. It remains astounding how, at the age of seventeen, Wolf was able to pen lines as poetic as ‘don’t be afraid of the dark, because the darkness is simply a womb for the lonely’.

Though that’s not to say that these songs are any less beautiful in their stripped-back form. Five-year-old Overture feels even more retrospective in its Sundark version, and manages to surpass the original in every way possible. Later in the album, Together – which at times came off a tad overcooked on Lupercalia – gets the most use out of the acoustic treatment, swapping its eurodance electro thump for a Spanish guitar, giving the lyrical sentiment the justice it deserves.

It’s testament to his ability as a songwriter that – 10 years on from his debut, which was recorded whilst he was still in his teens – these sixteen songs retain such emotional and musical depth. While this is primarily a release geared towards fans, Sundark and Riverlight remains a fascinating insight into the mind of one of 21st century Britain’s most uncompromising – and often underrated – artists.

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