Starting life in 2018 as a folk quartet, Emma Tovell, Nyle Holihan, Patrick Turner and Rowan Braham spent their early days playing old time standards, Michael Hurley covers and original songs in pubs across England. Coming back together in 2022 post-pandemic, the group moved towards a heavier, guitar-driven sound. Introducing Ben Auld to the band on drums, Brown Horse began to make a name for themselves in the resurgent scene of their adopted hometown, Norwich. With the addition of Phoebe Troup in the summer of 2023 completing the line-up, Brown Horse made the short drive north to Sickroom Studios, where they spent four days recording with Owen Turner.
“The studio up there is basically a huge barn surrounded by farm fields and wetlands. It felt like being at Big Pink or something. It’s not too fancy, just a very quiet and beautiful place. There was a little annex a few steps from the studio’s front door with a couple of bunk beds where we’d fall asleep watching The Simpsons after recording all day. In between takes we’d just hang out in the sun. Owen’s got two big golden retrievers, Poppy and Daisy, and they were always running around. There was a bunch of chickens too”.
The songs of Reservoir are rooted in a country-rock tradition. While the band acknowledges an indebtedness to the turn-of-the-millennium alt-country sounds of Uncle Tupelo, Silver Jews, Lucinda Williams, and Jason Molina, the songs on the album also resonate with the preceding “Last Waltz’” generation of seventies folk-rock artists, as well as more recent works.
“When it came time to record, the most difficult thing was working out which songs we would have to leave out. All of us in Brown Horse are songwriters, and each of us have been writing for years, which meant we were walking into the studio with a pretty big back catalogue of songs we couldn’t hope to record all of in just a few days. In the end, we felt that the songs which make up Reservoir shared something tonally; a kind of dark undercurrent which verges on desperation at points. It’s kind of a sad album, which is strange given how much fun we had making it”.
This undercurrent of melancholy takes various forms across the songs on the album. It’s clearly felt in tracks like ‘Paul Gilley’; a sprawling tale of heartache set against the life of the eponymous songwriter, who drowned in his neighbours’ pond at the age of twenty-seven, leaving behind an enigmatic legacy. The thread carries through into ‘Sunfisher’, a hard-driving country track led by fiddle and electric guitar. Describing silence that “rings like a bell”, ‘Sunfisher’ explores memory, loss and grief. The title track, ‘Reservoir’, approaches desperation and loneliness with a gothic tinge, through a series of eerie vignettes, vivid in their depiction of frustration and precarity. The alt-country rock tones of Bloodstain hit heavier, with a driving bass line and weaving, fuzzy riffs. It’s a disarming song about an edge you weren’t expecting; finding yourself at a point of no return, “cut off by the sea” for good or bad.
Listen to the album Reservoir here.