The ten song album Cider from California based vocalist and songwriter Gwyneth Moreland heralds the full on arrival of a major new talent. She’s enlisted an impressive team to help her realize its potential. David Hayes, noted for his work with Van Morrison, handled the production, engineering, and mixing chores while Karl Derfler’s mastering talents, which have distinguished previous Tom Waits releases, work their magic on this collection as well. The album’s musical talent is equally top notch. Legendary pedal steel player Gene Parsons appears on Cider, contributing banjo as well, while some possibly unlikely collaborators like former Frank Zappa drummer Ralph Humprey appear as well. The album doesn’t have that classical California feel – instead, this is a wide-ranging collection with a personal sound transcending both time and geography. Cider is a memorable musical experience combining great artistry with a boundless heart – it is sure to entertain many.
It’s obvious she’s an artist who takes great care with her performances. “Movin’ On” starts things off with a wispy shuffle that never gets ahead of its self. It’s guided by acoustic guitar and another hallmark of the album comes through in this song – the refusal of either Moreland or her band mates to become unnecessarily self indulgent. The same feel comes across on the song “Broken Road” and it does an excellent job of balancing mood and musicality. Ralph Humprey makes his mark on the song with great drummer that gives it the right amount of sway but never pushes the tempo too hard. The acoustic guitars on “Little Bird” have a much more assertive push with their straight ahead chording high in the mix. There’s some of the same solid narrative excellence defining this song that sets the best material on Cider apart and Moreland renders it with outstanding style. There’s a pleasing amiable jaunt defining the song “Farmhouse” and it defines the song with an understated rural feel without ever being too pretentious. The beauty of the vocal shows the same consistency that’s reached across the entirety of Cider and brings an unearthly glow to much of the material.
One of the album’s darkest numbers, “Eloise”, boasts a delicately woven grace that plays more layered than many of the other songs. The shadowy strains of the song are never played with too much theatricality and, instead, gain a lot of atmospherics from her sensitive treatment of the song’s depth. The purest love song on Cider, “Your Smile”, isn’t free of its own pains and derives a great deal of its power from the mix of devotion and heartache. It is one of her most successful attempts at incorporating backing vocals and they further accent the regret bubbling through the performance. It’s also one of her greater lyrics on an album full of them. It makes a dramatic tandem with the song “Danny Parker”. This is easily one of Moreland’s finest moments on the album and has a beautiful elegiac feel few of the other superb songs possess. The album’s final songs, “Cider” and “Summer Song”, bring the release to an ending akin to a leaf falling to ground on a early fall day. Moreland brings the right amount of force to this conclusion and makes for an excellent conclusion to one of the year’s best albums.