Humbling Tides is the second full album from Stranded Horse, the successor of 2007′s Churning Strides and various EPs. Stranded Horse is the musical moniker of Yann Tambour, a French songwriter who became known throughout France for his work with Encre. Having been present in the musical world for just about 10 years now, some of that time spent based in Bristol, Tambour has developed a strong style and a distinct sensitivity for dynamics and cadences, which are really well applied to the songs throughout his new album.
Tambour is a truly accomplished string musician, that is without a doubt. Each track on Humbling Tides is as graciously delivered as a John Martyn piece, with all of the liberty that only complete mastery of an instrument can provide. Exquisite melodies are allowed space to breathe – there’s no cluttering of instruments or production techniques, just the presentation of a man, his voice and his story with a few embellishments from a violin or perhaps a cello. A sparse, but delicately placed violin on ‘Shields’, for example brings a deep, touching dimension that only this kind of stripped back, acoustic music can achieve.
The tracks on Humbling Tides are sung in a mixture of French and English, with the latter being the prominent. The better songs, however, are arguably those sung in his native language. When singing in English, the accent chosen by Tambour (also known under the moniker Thee, Stranded Horse) treads a little too closely to Billy Bragg ground for this listener’s tastes. Various folk influences are easily traceable, with Bragg clearly being hugely influential over Tambour’s vocal style. However the slightly off kilter accent, although paying a touching tribute to those who have inspired him, ultimately distracts from the stunning music found on the album. Perhaps a slightly unfair remark, as the gent has written gorgeous lyrics to accompany some really beautiful music, but the stylistic singing choice that he has made draws attention away from this richness, and on an album where there are only two focus points – the melody and the vocal, it’s a fairly big distraction.
That’s not to say that this isn’t any good though, far from it. ‘Les Axes Déréglés’ is a poignant, captivating piece. This song in particular sounds very comfortable, with Tambour allowing his vocals to gently tumble over the top of the simple but immaculate plucked melody and the soft interceptions of a cello. Tonally, Tambour’s vocals are akin to those of Iron & Wine circa Our Endless Numbered Days, and the intensity of the delicately picked acoustic guitar and the melancholy vocal also seems to look back to this folk era for guidance.
A striking element of the music on the album is provided by Tambour’s use of a Kora, a West African instrument that’s not really that common in this brand of folk music. It adds an soft, harp-like tone to the songs and slots perfectly into the genre. Humbling Tides is an intimate, considered and delicate album which showcases the immense talent of this musician, but it would nice to have heard a singing style as natural as that found in his melodies.