First Impressions: Pulling Back the Night by Sundowners

The waves crash to shore, with each encroaching just a little bit more, while the amplitude—aka the distance from rest to crest—rises and recedes with the steadiness of a drummer’s well-kept beat. Blue guitars and indigo harmonies further color the goings-on, which echo the jangly textures first heard in the songs of the Byrds, Fairport Convention and other folk-rock artists and groups of the mid- and late 1960s. I’m talking about the sonic sensations provided by Sundowners, of course.

For those not in the know, Sundowners began life as a Merseyside band when friends Niamh Rowe and Fiona Skelly joined Skelly’s brother Alfie’s nascent group, whose self-titled 2015 album remains a shimmering thing of mystery. If I’m reading things right, however, at some point the group reduced to just the two women. (When that occurred, I can’t say, as information on them is hard to come by.) What I know for sure: Pulling Back the Night, their third album, aches with an earnestness that’s quite addictive, though the emphasis is less on the rock and more of the folk of “folk rock.” To my ears, it conjures Indigo Girls circa “Secure Yourself” and “Closer to Fine,” plus Paul Weller at his contemplative best. 

The album opens with two tracks that feature Clean Cut Kid’s Mike and Evelyn Hall. The title tune, which was written by Rowe, Skelly and the Halls, delves into the connections we keep for better and worse, while the bittersweet “Wonderful” finds the duo tripping over the past, simultaneously celebrating and mourning a relationship: “Time has a way of pulling the rug out from under you/Sometimes turning the page and walking away/Leaves you lost like a flame in the daylight.”   

Speaking of Weller: the Modfather guests on two tracks, the plaintive “A Thousand Doors,” which he cowrote with Rowe, Skelly and Steve Pilgrim, and the contemplative “Night Watcher,” which he wrote alone. Both songs would have easily fit on any of his recent albums; they are reflective gems. Check out the CinemaScope-lensed soul of the former:

The album continues along those same lines, ruminating on this thing we call life. “I’m Not the One,” another stunner, explores the dynamic of an ended relationship: “I’m not the one who will catch you when you fall/I’ll be the one who will hurt you when the rain begins to pour.” “Wild Sisters,” written by Skelly’s brother James (of the Coral), seems to be about Rowe and Skelly themselves, while “Take Me As I Am” conjures the flowing folk-rock of yore—as well as their own wondrous 2019 single, “River Run.”

The remainder of the album plays out in similar fashion, with the flavorful songs accented by Rowe and Skelly’s close-knit harmonies. One’s voice is light, the other’s dark, but they blend together into a kaleidoscope of color that’s quite intense. If you listen closely, you’ll smell cinnamon and spices and think maybe you’re dreaming—and if you catch those references, trust me when I say you’re sure to enjoy this set of songs, which balances the old with the new in compelling fashion.

The track list:

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