Sanctuary, a product of Ross Ainslie’s recovery from alcoholism, is a contemplation on finding comfort in your own company. It meditates not on the recovery process itself but the loneliness that sobriety can demand, especially when the social side of being a travelling musician revolves around alcohol. Ainslie describes music as a sanctuary he can find comfort in when temptation is at its worst.
All but one track is composed by Ainslie who artfully builds great hooks into great tracks combining them into a complete album. Sanctuary, pre released as a single track, is intended to be listened to in order, in a single sitting. In this respect, Sanctuary is more like a symphony than an album. Easy to get lost in, Sanctuary almost resembles a sleep pattern, livelier tracks give way to dreamier ones before the pace picks up again.
Inner Sanctum, a mix of tuned percussion and bansuri is minimalist and joyful like a Wes Anderson film. Happy Place is a jaunty little number, Ainslie’s whistles skip along the rhythmic path set by O’Kane’s banjo.
Sanctuary then begins to settle into itself with Sense of Family, a calming track that invokes a strong sense of security. Protect Yourself provides a new spurt of energy: a rock anthem meets folk.
Surroundings again hits a more introspective note with a funk jazz fusion-like sound. Both Protect Yourself and Surroundings see Byrne’s percussion act as something of a gear box for the band.
Ainslie’s keen interest in Indian music begins to really show itself in the strings and drumming of Beautiful Mind. Home in Another Dimension sees Ainslie explicitly explore Indian music. Zakir Hussain on the tabia (small drum) and Soumik Datta on the sarod (a deeper sounding sitar) provide a real sense of weight and authenticity.
Cloud Surfing returns to a Celtic theme. Obstacles of the Mind mixes Celtic and Indian sounds building up to Road to Recovery. Road to Recovery feels like the album’s heart, and despite its title is an upbeat and exuberant track. Ainslie’s pipes play excitedly over Indian percussion. These tracks crescendo into Let the Wild Ones Roam, a great set of reels.
Escaping Gravity closes the album, the only track with lyrics, it is ultimately an underwhelming close. Sanctuary has a lot of interesting things to say and Ainslie does a great job of communicating those ideas through his composition, but here the lyrics don’t quite achieve the profoundness they are intended to.
Ainslie makes a lot of the Indian influences present in Sanctuary, but the amount of influences at work and the expertise with which Ainslie weaves them is what makes Sanctuary. Conceptually and musically ambitious, Ainslie delivers.
Sanctuary is more than a collection of folk songs, more than a folk album, it is a true concept album - a work of art in its own right.Christopher C Leslie
Released on Great White Records on December 1, 2017.
1. Inner Sanctuary
2. Happy Place
3. Sense of Family
4. Protect Yourself
6. Beautiful Mysteries
7. Home In Another Dimension
8. Cloud Surfing
9. Obstacles Of The Mind
10. Road To Recovery
11. Let The Wild Ones Roam
12. Escaping Gravity