When spending time away from his main discipline as keyboard player in The Cure, Roger O’Donnell has amassed quite a discography. 2 Ravens, the latest addition, began to take its ghostly shape during an English winter, O’Donnell having just returned from a long tour with the band. When listening it is not too far-fetched to discern the hanging mist, through which can be glimpsed wispy outlines of trees and still river water, not quite on the point of freezing but still too cold to move.
These images occur frequently through the album, which operates under the steady tread of O’Donnell’s piano. He uses it to set out sparse chord progressions, and from it hints of melody and subtly changing shapes are issued, the constant object against which other more colourful elements move.
Jennifer Pague’s voice is the obvious one. American Vita And The Woolf singer joined O’Donnell to add the finishing touches to 2 Ravens when he realised the album had room for vocals. There are not many words, and few of the tracks are explicit songs, save for Don’t Tell Me… where the singer comes right into the foreground, adding her own beautifully harmonised parts. Elsewhere Pague’s contributions shift a little towards the middle ground, sensitively adding to the mood of a piece without dominating it. An Old Train offers a rewarding trio with cello and piano.
Of the instruments used on the album the cello takes a dominant role, used in one or two parts to add lyricism and, in some cases, warmth. This works particularly well in December, the first piece on the album, which starts with the bare outlines of bark visible through that hanging mist, but blossoms through the addition of two cellos, adding colour and bringing with it the reassurance that spring will ultimately bring things back to life once again.
A much fuller string texture comes to the fore for The Hearts Fall, the album’s most ambitious utterance. Clocking in at just under 10 minutes, it has a burst of energy at its outset, which falls back a little as the music does not quite build on the promising beginning, subsiding instead to slower and more introverted thoughts.
It is a telling shift on the part of O’Donnell, for while 2 Ravens is undoubtedly a pleasant listen and has some beautiful moments, where the textures create beautiful if understated shades, it needs at times an extra something to elevate it to a memorable plane. Pague’s vocals offer that possibility on several occasions, and the final track is particularly beautiful, while some of the richly scored cello lines create burnished harmonies. Yet this is not quite enough, the main problem being that the pace does not vary – rather like that of the river glimpsed in the mind’s eye by this particular listener.
It means that while O’Donnell’s work is hopeful and evocative, and will undoubtedly calm the troubled mind – a very big plus in the current climate – it may also leave its audience wanting more by its end.