Keaton Henson – Romantic Works

London born singer-songwriter Keaton Henson has been quietly building up a devoted fan base while nobody has been looking. His beautifully sad and often painfully introspective songs have seen his list of admirers swell, yet curiously, he remains a largely unknown quantity to the average music lover. All the more puzzling, given that his brand of soulful, heartfelt folk music has been very much en vogue for the last few years.

His second album Birthdays, released in 2013 was a work of precious, whispered beauty with Henson’s quivering falsetto a potent weapon in conveying the sense of desolate heartbreak at the centre of much of his work.

Third album Romantic Works is a radical departure in style if not in mood – Henson immerses himself in the ambient/classical genre with nine instrumental compositions of stark and startling beauty. It’s a brave move by Hanson at a time when he could have released a record that consolidated the success of his first two albums with more of the same. At first glance it looks like quite a leap for him, but examined a little more closely, Romantic Works carries the same sombre tone as his earlier records – he is just painting with a different palette of colours.

Gone are the plaintive guitars and soulful vocals of Birthdays and in its place we get the warm tones of cello, piano and a collection of ambient found sounds that combine to make this a richly atmospheric listen.

With Romantic Works, he joins artists like Max Richter, Dustin O’Halloran and Nils Frahm, composers at the leading edge of the ambient/classical genre. ‘Elevator Song’ is beauty on a quietly grand scale – a simple two note piano motif, the mournful scrape and swell of a cello and surging, autumnal strings create a mood dripping with melancholy. ‘Field’ uses the ambient sounds of birds singing as a backdrop for a piece of music of sobbing gorgeousness – Henson’s background as a song-writer of some craft ensures that these pieces of music never act solely as background music; they are too melodic for that. ‘Josella’ is more quietly reflective with spectral choral music appearing out of the fog of sound while ‘Petrichor’ is utterly beguiling.

With Romantic Works, Keaton Henson displays another string to his bow and neatly sidesteps any attempt to tag him as yet another earnest, bearded young song-writer with a guitar. It is a work of sublime, poetic beauty, a gentle reminder that music of quiet, unadorned simplicity can affect us in a profound and powerful way

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)