(Nice beard, right?) I was slow in finding William Fitzsimmons’ outstanding 2009 album “The Sparrow and the Crow”, but I have not forgotten discovering it in a snowy lodge in McCall, Idaho last winter. iTunes says I’ve listened to “I Don’t Feel it Anymore” (a top 5 track of the year last year) no less than 50 times, and that’s not counting CDs and mixes. The album recounted Fitzsimmons dealings with divorce, whether it be his parents’ or his own. The slow folk and hushed vocals were reminiscent of Iron & Wine, and there was such an emotional sincerity that propelled this album to greatness even in its simplicity.
I suppose the advantage of being a year late getting to his last album was not having to wait all that long for his newest album, “Gold in the Shadow”. I also had high expectations, since listening to Fitzsimmons’ progression up to this album shows an artist who has continually gotten better and better at his craft. And while judging on overall qualities it pales in comparison to his last album, it would be difficult to label this a dud or a disappointment. In all it’s a mildly more interesting sonic achievement, but a significantly less interesting lyrical and emotional achievement. Let’s not blame William for not going through something emotionally difficult before every album.
The best of the bunch are all up front on an album that does fade into background music a little too often. But the soft piano that introduces the chorus on “Beautiful Girl” could fit into many a television show soundtrack, while “Tide Pulls from the Moon” plays with some new sounds. “Fade Then Return” also features a dabbling in electronic sounds that has not been present on the mostly acoustic folk records that Fitzsimmons has made in the past. Other standouts are the beautifully melodic and string-drenched “Bird of Winter Prey” and “Let You Break”, where Fitzsimmons gets an assist from Julia Stone of Angus & Julia Stone semi-fame.
Whereas “The Sparrow and the Crow” gets under your skin and sticks with you, “Gold in the Shadow” merely sticks at the pleasant-but-not-overwhelming level. It’s a worthy add-on for those who were already fans of his work, but a newbie should check out his previous album for most of his best work. Still, he’s a good master of moods and anyone looking for some calmer indie folk for a rainy day should get well acquainted with William Fitzsimmons.