[6 May 2014]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Frances England is better known for releasing a series of children’s albums that have won awards and accolades, but it was a strange path she took towards releasing her first effort for grown-ups, Paths We Have Worn. Her debut album was a home recording created as a fundraiser for her son’s school, but word spread about it and a couple of years later England was playing the likes of Lollapalooza and Austin City Limits. When it comes to making music for adults, Paths We Have Worn has a childlike innocence to it: the arrangements are generally Spartan, the songwriting lush and the melodies drop dead gorgeous. England has created and crafted a winner here. Helping out, too, are some rather luminary names such as Cat Martino (who has played with Sufjan Stevens and the Shins), Jane Scarpantoni (who plays cello on Bob Mould’s Workbook record, among many countless other alternative rock albums), and Ryan Lott of Son Lux. There’s a certain wide-eyed wonder that Paths We Have Worn embodies, and the album simply moves from strength to strength throughout its 11 song, 38 minute runtime.
There are many wonderful moments to be had on Paths We Have Worn, but probably none are no more brilliant than “Sweet Bye & Bye”, which may be the best Sufjan Stevens-esque sounding song on banjo that Stevens didn’t write. Meanwhile, “Light Brings Color” has Postal Service-like glitchy electronics percolating under the surface. “On Our Way” has a very Belle and Sebastian feel to it with its “bah da dah da da dah” chorus that is infectious and giddy. But, basically, this is an album that plays as a cohesive whole: folk rock gently strummed to the cadence of a lullaby. England’s experience as a songwriter for children carries forth to her first bona-fide record for adults, and she’s carefully created and crafted something very special. Paths We Have Worn is a very good LP with songs about longing, and, should England decide to abandon writing for children altogether, parents will have a very extraordinary gift. This is an album best played after the kids have been put to bed, and you want to relax and unwind after a particularly taxing day.