There’s a directness to folk music that makes it a genre that offers something for everyone. From the strong political voices of Bob Dylan and Joan Baez in the era of Vietnam and Watergate to modern acts like Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes, folk music has always detailed the story of those trying to find their place in an ever-changing world. I respect and appreciate folk music as a whole for how it allows artists to paint vivid pictures with their words. So naturally, Whitby’s Mappe Of (aka Tom Meikle) piqued my interest with the name of his debut album alone: A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone. A title with such cinematic implications suggested a record full of musical ambition and honesty, and A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone certainly delivered on my expectations.
One wonders if Meikle is perhaps influenced by Andrés Segovia with how his playing packs so much power into so few notes. A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone is filled to the brim with acoustic guitar, notes gently picked, carrying the melody on almost every track. Echo effects punctuate Meikle’s beautiful playing right from the start of opener “Cavern’s Dark”. On some tracks, there’s even a well-timed use of electric guitar, like “Kaepora”, which is reminiscent of the Eagles in its structure and composition. That song opens with dual acoustic guitars, showing virtuosity beyond his years. Meikle’s main strength on this record is his vocal ability. He has quite a good range on his own, and combined with the stellar vocal harmonies on this record, he delivers a truly outstanding performance. The addition of horns, violin, percussion, bass guitar and synthesizers (as heard on the uplifting track “Nimbin” and the psychedelic “Ruin”) makes for a sweeping and powerful work of art.
Meikle’s lyrics tell some powerful narratives. “Carbon Scores and Smoke” details the dark and eerie story of someone burning their house down with everyone inside. Like a great horror movie that you can’t get out of your head, its refrain of “You’re a victim of a restless mind” leaves a lasting impression. “Unfound” is an equally tragic tale of an old man slowly dying of Alzheimer’s, unable to recognize his own family. By branching out beyond the usual folk song subject matter, Mappe Of excels at remaining grounded while transporting the listener around the world and back.
Meikle refers to his music as “ethereal avant-folk”, and that’s quite apt. A Northern Star, A Perfect Stone exemplifies a new-school take on an old-school sound. This record serves to underscore what the Mappe Of project aims to accomplish: Music immersed in ideas, yearning to go somewhere new. I look forward to seeing where Mappe Of, and Meikle, go from here.