Boo Hewerdine – Before: Album Review

Release Date: 6th September 2019

Label: Reveal Records

Formats: CD, DL

The irrepressible and prolific songwriter comes up with an interesting contrast to 2017’s Swimming In Mercury.

Boo Hewerdine is joined by Danish multi-instrumentalist Gustaf Ljunggren whose weird and wonderful collection of strange instruments are what helps this album to become something more than just initial sketches. It’s an album about retaining the ‘power of simplicity’ without becoming the typically rich and polished songs associated with the craft of Boo Hewerdine.

Eighteen tracks in thirty-two minutes sound a bit like it should be a punk album in ’77 but you couldn’t be further from the truth. While everyone and his dog also seem to be dissecting the mammoth seventy-plus minutes of the new Tool album that we’ve waited thirteen years for (“it was great eight years ago,” apparently – Maynard James Keenan), here’s the perfect antidote.

It’s certainly one where he’s responded to the complexity of his previous album and topped with a piece of cover artwork that provides the perfect frame. Cracked Ice by Maruyama Okyo from the Eighteenth century that’s been used with permission of the British Museum.

Ljunggren has a mighty presence, his musical skills tapping into everything from mandocello to viola to cornet, pedal steel guitar and whatever the suziki andes is/are. And a toy piano. There’s an emphasis on simple, fragile and stark, yet retaining the quintessential Boo Hewerdine calm vocal presence intertwined with some instrumental vignettes. It lends a serenity to the album that Hewerdine has described as “an opportunity to go back to the source.”

Back to the source too as he trawls the memory banks and the joy of simple things, singing of riding on his bike, spending his dough in town on a weekend and getting drunk for the first time as Llundggren punctuates proceedings with his musical interludes to create a virtually seamless procession. “When shadows are your only company” / “once the world was made of colours” hints at a reflective melancholy and maybe cautionary advice that we should make the most of our time.

On Starlight he joins writing forces with Eddi Reader on an easy lounge lullaby that sets off a sequence where the plink plonk pluck vignette of Preparation and Neverland concludes with a Prepared guitar piece that owes a little to the great Richard Thompson. Apt that the set finishes with I Wish I Had Wings which sums up Before.  Described as “arriving on the way to the studio” and then recorded without editing or honing it typifies the simple and organic approach. Refreshing and honest. Maynard take note.

Thinking aloud, Before may prove the ideal opportunity to look into the Boo Hewerdine method of songwriting. If this is ‘before’ it would be interesting to see what becomes of these songs ‘after’, given some time to grow and evolve. However, for once with Boo Hewerdine, given his track record of quality songwriting,  expect the unexpected.

Listen to Last Rays Of Sun:

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