SINGLE REVIEW: Writer’s Resolve by Badminton Revival

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The genesis of Nashville-based Badminton Revival has a poignant backstory. The singer/songwriter’s uncle had a double heart attack during a badminton tournament, which also unfortunately affected his memory. Something that aided his recuperation was listening to music, which brought memories flooding back.

The importance of music was something that was brought home to him and he insisted his songwriter nephew should make the most of his gift. He suggested writing a song about being a struggling songwriter.

Writer’s Resolve is the result of that suggestion and is the debut release from Badminton Revival. It’s in fact written about a female singer/songwriter trying to make it in the Nashville music industry.

The song is in the alternative folk genre, a style that brought to mind early Simon and Garfunkel, Nick Drake and John Martyn along with more modern folk artists like Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst), Iron and Wine and Johnny Flynn.

Beginning with crystal-clear picked acoustic guitars, it’s the strong and stately male vocals that then capture the attention. The music has a melancholy, autumnal vibe encapsulated by the lilting vocal melody which works perfectly in tandem with the poetic lyrics.

The song is partly a fascinating depiction of the songwriting process itself, the first lines capturing the white heat of artistic inspiration: “Thoughts fly faster than fingers can fret, she’s never met a melody that she couldn’t catch yet…”.

The words then depict a difficulty that afflicts so many artists, having to deal with the commercially driven music industry as well finding themselves having to compete with more confident and commercially viable performers: “Her foes are brave and strong and tall and they don’t ever seem scared at all….”.

The lyrics to the last verse bring to mind the tormented but often beautiful metaphors of Conor Oberst: “Her friends they tell her time heals all, she fears the doses are too small, seconds tick like an IV drip…still she crawls….”. From there, the music blossoms with a virtuosic, superbly crafted acoustic guitar solo which bodes well for his future musical potential.

Overall, this a moving and exquisitely written song from an artist highly gifted both musically and lyrically. Blessed with a fine voice and a truly exceptional guitarist, his gifts as a lyricist are also of the highest calibre; this means he has everything it takes to rise to the top in his field and if there’s any justice he will get there. I very much look forward to hearing future material from Badminton Revival.

 

VERDICT =  9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Pre-save Writer’s Resolve HERE

 

ALBUM REVIEW: About Time by Matthew Falls

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Matthew Falls is a singer/songwriter and guitarist hailing from Hebden Bridge in England. His music is acoustic guitar-based pop, his style a cross between traditional singer songwriters like James Taylor, Cat Stevens and John Denver with more modern troubadours like Bon Iver and Damien Rice. Ultimately though, he has forged a unique, nuanced style of his own.

This album, About Time consists of ten tracks (with five bonus tracks on the deluxe edition) and, impressively, was recorded and produced solely by himself. With this style of music, it certainly puts the spotlight on your abilities and fortunately Matthew is a highly accomplished guitarist, with a strong, resonant voice.

The album begins with the title track, which consists of crystal clear fingerpicked acoustic guitar and Matthew’s emotive, intimate vocals augmented by subtle strings. It’s a philosophical, reflective song that many will relate to, about trying to find yourself on life’s journey and finding somewhere you feel you belong: “The lost and lonely gather once again, sad and smiling faces somehow look the same.…”. It’s also a song about finding redemption, with powerful lines like, “I’ve come too far to fall upon my sins, I’ll atone with each new day...”. An excellent start to the album.

The self-reflection continues on the following When I Was You. It’s a clever song concept about wanting to be able to talk to himself as a younger man going through dark times, to reassure him that life will eventually improve: “Don’t despair cos something’s coming, I’ll meet you there, a life worth loving….”. Musically, it continues his highly effective signature sound of vocals, acoustic guitar and strings as well as featuring some lovely vocal harmonies. Once again, it’s a very well crafted song with lyrical wisdom borne of experience.

The third track Everything’s Not Fine is the album’s epics at five and a half minutes and is one of the emotionally honest and affecting songs here. It’s about having regrets about the past ( “The wasted years, they sting like tears…”) and struggling with feelings of despair, encapsulated on the memorable chorus: “If you don’t mind, I’ll hide this thing that’s broken deep inside, save it for tomorrow if the sun still shines, everything’s not fine.…”. Ultimately, it’s about finding emotional resolution through acceptance rather than raking over past mistakes, summed up by the lines, “I won’t waste another second of my time looking for an answer that’s already mine…”.

The lilting, soothing vocal melody of the following song Falling belies the saturnine nature of the words, which are even more troubled than its predecessor: “Give me your hand, I’m falling and the darkness bares no sound, listen for me calling from this lonely place I’ve found….”. The ability to articulate and express our most difficult emotions is a gift that only the best songwriters possess, and Matthew eloquently conveys the vicissitudes of life’s journey with consummate poetic skill.

He also has a talent for writing consistently strong melodies, as evidenced by the excellent Scattered To The Wind. It features perhaps the most immediate and instantly memorable chorus on the album, as well as more lyrics of real depth and poignancy: “Time takes its toll on your heart and your soul, but it’s ok to take it in before the memories of all of this are scattered to the wind….”. A very moving song, and one that would make a good single.

Sixth song Day By Day is a much more upbeat song lyrically, about finding someone who rescues you from being in a bad place, captured succinctly by lines like, “You burned away the haze, saved me from my fate….”. There’s still an undercurrent of regret for lost time when he muses, “All that’s left behind I’d give away, if I could find a way to meet you when I still had time to spend…..”.

Where It Goes is another insightful song about looking back on life and wondering if the choices you made were right, whether the dreams you chased were worth it, framed in fine imagery like, “chasing dancing bright lights in the blackened sky”. Bob Dylan would have been proud to have written that line.

Eighth song Lay Me Down is a melancholy tale of world weariness and a close relationship that has fallen by the wayside: “If I were with you there and whispered in your ear, would you understand a word, would you know that I was near?” The searing honesty of Matthew’s lyrics mean that every song on the album has an emotional punch and this is no exception.

Lonely Now, as the title implies, is a similarly visceral look at dealing with solitude that those who have experienced it will relate only too well to these moving lines: “I hear whispers in the dark as I give in to sleep….the man that I’ve become, he makes me want to run….”. Despite the turmoil of the song’s theme, the music is cathartic and uplifting, with Matthew delivering another strong chorus.

The emotional journey of the album is brought full circle on closing song Going Home, which depicts the end of a close friendship. It’s a subject that most will relate to and Matthew captures the sense of finality and sadness that comes with it on the opening Iines: “I dedicate this one to you, a friend so hard to lose but don’t you know time will make us strangers as it goes…”.

Though the subject matter is once more downbeat, the ultimate effect, once again, is somehow life affirming through acknowledging that life has many chapters that begin and end. And that is the whole concept of the album, encapsulated by the title.

Overall, this is a wonderful piece of work from a mature and fully developed alternative folk artist who combines the lyrical and emotional range of classic songwriters like Dylan and Nick Drake with the accessible style of modern songwriters like Damien Rice and Mumford and Sons. It’s an album that deserves to be heard widely, and those that connect with it emotionally will become lifelong fans of Matthew Falls. Let’s hope this fine songwriter gets the recognition he deserves.

 

VERDICT = 9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Belligerent North Star by White Robot

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https://whiterobot1.bandcamp.com/music

White Robot are an alternative folk duo, consisting of songwriter/guitarist Asher Cochlain and singer Amanda Joy. Intriguingly, despite their artistic collaboration they have never actually met, making it a creative endeavour reflective of the post-Internet era, culturally.  Their music is essentially alt. folk/dark folk, first bringing to mind artists like Laura Marling, Gillian Welch, Lisa Hannigan and Ani DeFranco due to Amanda Joy’s crystalline lead vocals, with a Nick Drake influence in the picked acoustic guitar playing and melancholic songwriting style of Asher Cochlain.

The Belligerent North Star consists of nine tracks, starting with the folk blues of Dark House. The intricate acoustic guitar work of Cochlain immediately captures the ear, before Amanda Joy’s evocative voice soon weaves its spell on the listener. From its first lines there is a darkly poetic quality to the words that fits the music perfectly: “In this house they decease, they are numb….”. Despite the song’s brevity, the haunting title hook makes an instant impression and sticks fast in the mind: “There’s freedom in the dark house….”. It has an ironic poignancy that made me think of Nick Drake’s Fruit Tree.

The second track Clap Hands will be familiar to fans of the Tom Waits album Rain Dogs, though this is not so much a cover version as a complete reinterpretation. Keeping the lyrics and vocal melody the same, Cochlain re-harmonizes the music which breathes new life into the song, along with the very inventive arrangement (including  12 string guitar and piano) and modern production style. Another great vocal from Amanda here.

Paranoid Rose is a hymnal, beautiful folk ballad with haunting Fleet Foxes-style stacked vocal harmonies. It creates a dreamlike, mystical ambience with a slightly sinister undertow. This dark but spiritual vibe continues with Broke His Body With A Rope, which features male lead vocals courtesy of Cole Am and features powerful lines: “Broke his bones but they couldn’t break his soul, he knew there was something more in store….”.

Banshee and a Farm Boy is a lovely duet, featuring vocals from both Cole and Amanda. Like all the songs, it is exquisitely crafted and arranged with some fine piano work from Bogaert Frederic, which works in perfect tandem with Cochlain’s finger-picked acoustic guitar.

The following James is perhaps the most immediate song on the album, starting with a vocal refrain of “James Earl Jones” (perhaps known best as the voice of Darth Vader) then goes into a wild jazz section, the kind of random mid track interlude that made me think of Beck’s Odelay album. Amanda’s vocals are joined by some low-octave male vocals in places, which creates an interesting contrast.

Go Go Heartless Horse is a brief instrumental that acts as a fine showcase for Cochlain’s superb guitar playing, and there’s plenty more of that on the last ‘proper’ song on the album, Flame of Grey. It features a particularly enchanting lead vocal, reminiscent of Kate Bush at her most ethereal and otherworldly, and the whole song has a transcendent quality. The final track All Thorns Are Brothers is rather a curveball, twenty seconds of acoustic guitar, electronic noises and vocal samples which gives a satisfyingly unpredictable ending to the album.

Overall, this is a highly accomplished work from an inspired artistic collaboration that brings traditional folk into the modern era. The combination of Asher Cochlain’s songwriting and guitar skills with Amanda Joy’s beatific voice makes for many moments of musical beauty. This album stands alongside the best in this genre and deserves to be heard by many.

 

VERDICT =  9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

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SINGLE REVIEW: Something Else by Tim Spriggs

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www.timspriggs.com

Tim Spriggs is a singer and songwriter hailing from Australia. He grew up in an environment surrounded by music, learning guitar along the way. Over the past ten years he has been honing his songwriting craft and this has culminated in the release of his first material, a five song EP called Something Else, with this being the title track and lead single. His music is essentially in the genre of acoustic pop though he has stated that he listens to a wide array of artists and genres.

To my ear, Tim Spriggs belongs in a long lineage of acoustic singer/songwriters and troubadours. His finger picking style recalls classic songwriters of the past like Nick Drake and Cat Stevens, along with more modern artists like Ed Sheeran and George Ezra. Vocally, Tim is blessed with a rich baritone voice, singing in a low register similar to Ezra and not sounding unlike fellow Australian Nick Cave at times.

Something Else is exquisitely recorded, consisting of crystal clear acoustic guitar and vocals, at least to begin with. The song is about individuality and making your own choices despite the influence of others: “They tell me what I want, maybe it’s what I need….but I want something else…”. The first section features some fine Nick Drake-esque finger picking from Spriggs, who has developed a unique style as a guitarist.

This minimal style is nice contrasted by a 2/4 section featuring some Western-style whistling and tastefully driven electric guitar. The resulting sound is very polished and radio friendly, which bodes well for his commercial prospects. More importantly, the song has a memorable hook and an emotive quality that is best described as ‘real’, clearly written from the heart.

Overall, this is an extremely accomplished song from an artist who has emerged fully formed and hit the ground running. He has developed his own style so that he stands out from the crowd yet would not sound out of place next to similar sounding artists on mainstream radio, a difficult and vital balancing act. I expect his music to gain rapidly in popularity and the release of his debut album could make a seriously strong impact on the music world.

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

Listen here:

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Good News by Will Adams

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Will Adams is an alternative folk singer songwriter hailing from New York. I don’t have many background details to convey on this enigmatic artist, but I can tell you that artistically he lies halfway between the folk legends Nick Drake and Cat Stevens. His music is stripped down to just his vocals and acoustic guitar, giving it an immediate intimacy and warmth.

As a songwriter, he has been prolific. In 2007, he released his marathon 23 track debut album Time Lost and Found, following up with Little Brother, Big Sister in 2008 and The Ballad of Reginald Fessenden the following year. Since then he has released a steady stream of singles and this album, Good News, marks his first full length release for a while.

From the first seconds of opening track Magic Garden, with its crystal clear, finger picked acoustic guitar and gentle, emotive vocals, the listener realizes they’re in the hands of a very fine talent. Certainly, the obvious comparison to make is with the aforementioned Nick Drake and there are undoubtedly some similarities; Adams has that same purely poetic quality that manifests in Drake’s finest work and a penchant for alternate guitar tunings.

But whereas poor Nick viewed the world through a deeply melancholy lens as opposed to rose-tinted glasses, Will Adams has an innate optimism and understated joy in his music. Magic Garden encourages appreciating what we have and seizing the day in a poignant way: “Before it’s too late to play these silly games, before we’re old and grey and cannot say our names….”.

Second song Where The Wind Will Blow has another gorgeous, lilting finger-picked  progression and is full of finely drawn and vivid lyrical imagery: “All along the river, the blue ray birds are flying by, across the cornfields and down the lane the farmer walks home in the rain…”. It’s another touching song about not knowing where life will take us.

The following She’s Partial To Fruity Drinks, as the title implies, is rather lighter in tone, painting a portrait of a woman that made me think of the mysterious female characters in Dylan songs like She Belongs To Me and Sad Eyed Lady of The Lowlands. The dry humour in the lyrics acts as a nice counterpoint to the more serious songs on the album: “She likes to go diving in out of town dumpsters, she lives in a house that looks like the Munsters….”.

This character continues straight into the next song, We’ve Been Conned, deepening the detail of this endearingly eccentric character: “She’s good at clearing up messes wearing fancy dresses…”. Fifth track Bread Pudding is built around a lovely descending chord progression and it’s another strangely affecting song about something simple, the eating of a pudding. It’s the measure of an artist to take the mundane and make it seem beautiful.

The next two songs, Prayer For A Homeless Man and Prayer For Frey, are both heartwarming tales, with the former a particularly moving depiction of living homeless and the importance of basic human compassion: “I turned and looked into my pocket and put ten dollars in his hand.…”.

Eighth song Longer Way Home is one of the more melancholy moments, conjuring up the sombre mood of a late night. But the Cat Stevens-esque world wonder is suitably restored on the final track, A Glorious Gift: “Let the guardian angels pick up the pieces….”. This is the ultimate message of the whole album, the dwelling on the light in the midst of darkness and making the most of our lives.

Overall, this is a wonderful collection of songs that work both separately and as a cohesive whole. As a songwriter, Will Adams has found his own niche combining the delicate poeticism of Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell, with the evergreen joie de vivre of Cat Stevens yet also the timeworn wisdom of Paul Simon and Dylan. In these times of internecine strife, this music seems like a glorious gift indeed.

 

VERDICT =  8.9 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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SINGLE REVIEW: Soak by Anonymous One

 

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Anonymous One, as you may guess from his chosen moniker, is not overly forthcoming with biographical details. I can tell you he’s a singer songwriter in the acoustic rock/pop genre and that’s all! However, in this era of image-obsessed media and their epidemic of biased misinformation, I can entirely respect an artist who chooses to remain anonymous and lets their music do the talking.

Fortunately, in the case of Soak, the music deserves attention purely on its own merits. Starting with just strummed acoustic guitar, his vocals enter with an authentic tone, mildly reminiscent of Staind’s Aaron Lewis. Indeed, musically it stylistically resembles that band’s lighter moments.

However, Anonymous One’s lyrics are rather more complex and interesting than theirs. With an emotive, yet poetic and opaque lyrical style that brought to mind Nick Drake, Anonymous One writes words that are both imagistic and abstract. That is the internal contradiction that lies at the heart of all good art, captured in lines like, “When we wash the soak away…..and were fading for tomorrow’s day, and we tear these rivens down…..standing broken, falling from the ground….”.

Gradually, the drums enter into the mix, breaking into a full beat in the second half of the first verse. As it progresses, subtle lead guitar also segues into view, before a full blooded, mellifluous lead guitar solo lifts the track into the stratosphere. Electric rhythm guitar lends weight and power in the second half, and some fine vocal harmonies in the last refrain complete a very well crafted arrangement.

Overall, this is an excellent piece of songwriting produced to a high standard. It retains an enigmatic and intriguing air of mystery even after repeated listens, owing partly due to the anonymity of its composer and performer. For those looking for an antidote to the intellectually vacant world of commercial pop, look no further than the musical and lyrical depth of Anonymous One, which Soak encapsulates.

 

 

VERDICT: 8.7 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

 

ALBUM REVIEW: Whisky Priest by Ben Noble

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Ben Noble is a singer/songwriter currently based in Minneapolis. His music is a unique blend of folk and classical and he’s essentially a troubadour in the tradition of classic songwriters like Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. He cites Bon Iver, Damien Rice, Sufjan Stevens and Radiohead as influences. He also brings to mind Nick Drake, Conor Oberst and Elliott Smith in both musical style and the melancholic nature of his lyrics.

This album, Whisky Priest, is his debut and contains twelve tracks. Opening song Birthmark is the perfect introduction to his work; finger picked guitar, Ben’s almost  angelic vocals and hauntingly beautiful melodies and chord progressions. Subtle use of strings adds to the dreamy sonic texture.

Like all good artists, Ben Noble is prepared to confront the dark side of life and even his own nature. Birthmark contains lyrics of Dylan-esque poetic profundity: “Sea of glass on which I’m walking bends to break beneath the shame, why do we slave to build an able ship with doomed remains?”

Second track Healer Might is extraordinary; ‘a capella’ vocals featuring rich, layered harmonies that brought to mind Fleet Foxes, while Little One is a touching, fragile song aided by Saint-Saens style piano. It’s a perfect example of how Ben’s music seems to stand outside time and floats across the listener’s consciousness.

Cutting Teeth captures this disembodied, magical quality and gives us the source of the album title: “Sleep, while you cut your teeth, whisky priest“. He’s a genuine poet as well as a master craftsman of melody, the line “weaving the darkness with the light” from the lovely The Sea And The Moon encapsulating his artistic oeuvre perfectly. The closing three songs are a strong bookend to the album, with final song Ikon providing a gentle epic at five and a half minutes.

Overall, this is an absolute gem of an album containing songwriting of the highest calibre. With certain artists, they are so gifted that it seems somehow an injustice if they are not already hugely successful. In this case, it’s early days as this is his debut release and I expect nothing but critical acclaim and a rapidly expanding fanbase for Ben Noble. Enjoy his music now, while he’s still an unknown treasure waiting to be unearthed.

VERDICT: 9.2 out of 10

Alex Faulkner

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ALBUM REVIEW: The Whisper and The Hurricane by Matt Hartless

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https://matthartless.bandcamp.com/album/the-whisper-and-the-hurricane

Matt Hartless is an Irish songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer, currently based in Manchester, England. He has, so far, put out three full length studio albums (Our Last Days In The Sun, Victory and this one, The Whisper and The Hurricane, released in August 2017). Aside from these he has also released singles, E.P.s and compilations.  His music defies simple genre categorization, encompassing an eclectic range of styles including folk, ska, classical, ambient, flamenco and alternative rock. Sometimes these styles vary and combine within the same song!

This ten track album begins with Rorschach, and as soon as Matt’s rich, harmony layered a capella vocals emerge from the speakers you realize this is not going to be the usual fare. His voice is distinctive and powerful, reaching an almost operatic grandeur at certain moments. It is reminiscent of Muse’s Matt Bellamy and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, though less affected, and he is gifted with an astounding vocal range (as anyone will discover if they listen to the entire album).

Lyrically, like musically, he is very eclectic and varied, mixing the oblique with the concrete and the romantic with the quotidian (this is captured even in the album’s title). These juxtapositions of the internal and external worlds lend the lyrics both a cinematic and imagistic quality that brings to mind T.S. Eliot circa The Waste Land. Lines such as “Analyze my every motive with a questionnaire and a Rorsharch test” seem particularly apposite in this current climate of behavioural scrutiny, both personal and societal.

Rorsharch is itself like an ink blot test, open to interpretation. Musically, it creates an evocative soundscape, with Hartless playing the majority of the instruments, aided by haunting violin lines (courtesy of Mark Humphries). The song is led by the lilting, folk-influenced vocal melody and the memorable enigmatic refrain, “No, I don’t remember at all...” In the second verse he muses, “There was no point to anything we did, till we ran out of time.…” and these themes of existential ennui and an impending sense of apocalypse recur throughout the album.

Second song The Vaulted Lead Ceiling is one of the album’s epics at six minutes long and begins with sparse acoustic guitar set against a sound collage of modern life; street noises, weather and bits of broken conversation. It is more openly personal. as evidenced by the dryly humorous opening line: “I don’t want to live the life of the chronically bored…”.

This elegiac, melancholy and world-weary tone pervades the album in a way that is reminiscent of troubled troubadours from the past like Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. The song brings to mind Exit Music (from Radiohead’s magnum opus Ok Computer) in the way it builds from, well, a whisper to a hurricane. To attempt a six minute track like this shows the scope of his musical ambition, and he pulls it off with aplomb.

The following Life In The Tannery is an effective contrast, with it’s samba-esque rhythms and restless, addictive guitar lines. It’s one of two tracks on the album that bring to mind the quirky alternative pop of Badly Drawn Boy and acts as a nice counterbalance to the ‘sturm und drung’ style of the emotionally heavyweight songs that surround it. Lyrically, it deals with the harsh truth that our relationships in life are partly based on projections and illusions: “To pull you from the blizzard, cartwheeling out of sync with the feelings that you perceive: you’re in love with a daydream…“.

Fourth song Waterlilies is arguably the album’s finest moment, drawing from the same well of doomed romanticism as The Smiths and Joy Division, but inhabiting its own sonic landscape entirely. Starting with a jazzy, beautifully simple two-chord piano progression, it develops into a soaring, euphoric ode to the timeless struggles of the human condition. It’s a good example of how he mixes the personal with powerful imagery, so we get: “I stumble through the haze that separates me from the end of days…” mixed in with striking images like ‘bodies in the street trampled by the protesters’ feet’. At the risk of sounding pretentious, you could call this style impressionistic in a similar way to Monet’s painting of the same name.

Fifth track Peace To Camera shows another facet to his oeuvre; an ambient instrumental that shows influences ranging from Sigur Rós and the French classical composer Erik Satie. Ethereal, haunting piano melodies drift and swirl without finding resolution, a mixture of the melodic and the dissonant. Again, you could describe it as an impressionistic painting in sound.

The classical influence continues strongly on the next two songs, Alice Loses Grip and The Science Of Attachment. The former begins with a swirling piano motif before developing into an epic piece of catharsis, lyrically capturing the theme of the album and giving us the source of the title: “The steps towards my hopes and dreams were worth my splitting at the seams, or better not to entertain the whisper and the hurricane…“.

The music is leant weight and stately grandeur by tasteful bursts of brass, adding to the symphonic texture. Matt delivers another stirring vocal performance of soaring intensity, which continues into the following six-minute The Science Of Attachment. This one brings to mind Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata along with the Gallic charm and beauty of the soundtrack to the classic film Amélie. It is in 6/8 time giving it a waltz feel, and violin from Dan Reiss lends it a gypsy vibe.

Emotionally, this song turns up the heat still further, the opening lines desperate and despairing: “I need a miracle or something magical, to prove there is more to life than this….“. Vocally, he channels a blend of Thom Yorke-esque power with the measured restraint of Elbow’s Guy Garvey. It builds to an anguished crescendo before ending on the evocative piano figure with which it began. Superb.

Making Small Fries Illegal is a distinct change of pace, an upbeat piece of indie-pop that brings to mind Mancunian music like, again, Elbow and Badly Drawn Boy. Lyrically, it sardonically deals with our disposability in modern society: “I left the office today, they’re making small fries redundant and I don’t know what to say, they think that I am one of them…..”. The melody really sticks in your mind and makes it a good choice as a single.

The final two songs, Snapdragon and London Will Fall, provide a showcase for both his eclecticism and extraordinary falsetto, especially the latter. Snapdragon shows his Irish roots, a piece of lilting but fiery folk in 3/4 waltz time (for the most part) that brought to mind The Levellers. The instantly memorable fiddle melody sets the tone and Thom Yorke would be proud to have written a line like, “Sleeping pills and aspirin, all to no effect, I’m shocked there’s anyone left….”

London Will Fall is a suitably epic way to end the album, the third to clock in at over six minutes. This one is perhaps best described as progressive ska, starting out in 4/4 then switching to triple time halfway through. As you can tell from the foreboding, yet maybe prescient, title it once again hints at apocalypse though the lyrics are barbed towards someone in particular: “London will fall and I won’t be there and it will all be down to you. Call, but I won’t be coming…we were saving our own skins…“.  It builds to a cathartic climax, with his falsetto voice reaching high notes that have to be heard to be believed! A stunning way to finish.

With The Whisper And The Hurricane, Matt Hartless has set the bar very high artistically and provided a powerful, poignant musical document of what it means to be a human being in the early 21st century, with artistic influences drawing back to the 19th century.

While the mainstream has become very much a case of the bland leading the bland, this album offers hidden treasure to anyone who still regards the album as an important art form and dares to delve down the rabbit hole. With any justice, this will still be listened to in fifty years time and hopefully beyond. British music has a new unsung hero.

 

VERDICT: 9.3 out of 10 

Alex Faulkner

 

 

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ALBUM REVIEW: Tell My Darling by J.P. Kallio

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J.P. Kallio originally hails from Finland but is now based in Dublin and as a singer/songwriter, he is soaked in the spirit (or spirits, if you’ll excuse the pun) of the Irish troubadour. His songs are often gritty tales of real life that don’t shy away from tackling some of the darker themes of the human conditions and that gives the songs depth and an authentic voice. I can hear influences such as Van Morrison, The Pogues, Tom Waits and Damien Rice among others in these songs.

Sunny Summer’s Day begins the album and is a lovely but deceptively upbeat track in the context of the songs that follow. Kallio’s sound is essentially just his easy-on-the-ear voice and fingerpicked acoustic guitar, aided by mandolins and occasionally flute which adds colour. City Lights, the second track, is more indicative of the rest of the album, a sad tale of a man who has to travel to the city to find work, leaving behind his family: ‘There’s no reason to not drink anymore, now he’s lost his darling wife and his only child to the big City Lights….’.

Songs like the third track Judge (which features a beautiful Irish flute solo) and, later in the album, This Town deal with small town small-mindedness and modern social decline respectively, both poignant, powerful songs. The title track Tell My Darling is a harrowing tale of a man, told in the first person, who faces deep regret after turning to a life of crime.

Perhaps the most poignant track here is the fifth song Daddy’s Girl, a heartbreaking story of fatal disease from smoking, a social issue that needs highlighting. The lyrics paint a sad picture of the effect disease has on loved ones: ‘Daddy’s girl cries a thousand tears tonight, she wonders who’s gonna walk her down the aisle…’. You’d have to be rather hard of heart not to feel moved by it, and it is commendably raw and brave songwriting.

Other songs, such as the brutually honest Pain and the deeply sorrowful Close To The End bring to mind the melancholy of Nick Drake. Whether these songs are simply more tales sung in the first person is hard to tell, but they come across as more personal than some of the earlier tracks.

Overall, this album is a very accomplished set of songs that are about people and their everyday lives told in honest detail, both the good and the bad sides of life. With acts such as Mumford and Sons showing folk can now sell millions and top the mainstream charts, I can see J.P. Kallio building up a big fanbase as he takes this emotive music out on the road.

 

Alex Faulkner

Verdict 8.4 out of 10