Peter James Millson – Selected Works: Album Review

Collected songs of contentment from the career of Bridport songwriter, Peter James Millson.

Release Date:  26th February 2021

Label: Reveal Records

Formats: CD (limited edition), Download

There’s a bit of a story to this one…  Peter James Millson is a Bridport-based singer/songwriter and a photographer of no small repute. His assignments have included a five-year stint with The Guardian and he’s got six exhibits in the National Portrait Gallery!)  He’s also released four earlier albums, either through his own label or via Haven Records, and he’s steadily building a musical reputation for himself. 

In 2017, Peter made contact with the great Boo Hewerdine with a proposal that Boo would produce Peter’s next album.  Boo was sufficiently impressed by Peter’s demos for the album that he agreed to climb onboard, and the result was 2017’s MobileSuch was Boo’s admiration of Peter’s work that he shared the rough cuts for Mobile with the team at Reveal Records, Boo’s label. The guys at Reveal were equally impressed and, after the inevitable dialogue, invited Peter to join the label. The culmination of all that is Selected Works, Peter’s first album for Reveal.

As the title suggests, Selected Works is a compilation.  It’s been put together by Peter and Reveal as a ‘Primer,’ a summary of the best of his work so far, aimed principally at those yet to discover the depth and quality of his music.  The album draws mainly on three of Peter’s previous four albums for its content. There are five cuts from 2016’s highly acclaimed The Red Café, two from Mobile and three from 2019’s Low Key.  To bring things right up to date, Peter has also included two brand new songs, recorded in Winter 2020 which are expected to feature on his next album of original material, hopefully sometime during the summer of 2021. 

It’s come together very well!  This is a collection of mature, high quality and well-produced songs. His start with a new label is an excellent opportunity for Peter to repackage a bunch of highlights from his career to date to make the unconverted aware of what he can do.

Peter James Millson plays piano and guitar and he writes songs that are laid back, melodic and sophisticated.  On the evidence of this selection, his stock-in-trade is songs that are strong in contentment, gratitude and optimism. He’s the owner of a pleasant, tuneful voice which is unforced and sincere, and he chooses the instrumentation and musicians wisely to add just the right amount of colour to his songs. 

On every song in the collection, the production focusses strongly on the voice and the lyrics, and the backing is subtle, well balanced, never intrusive and, above all, enjoyable.  I was particularly enamoured by Jenifer Cook’s contributions on harp (the stringed version…) and with the delightful harmony vocals on most of the songs by (I believe) Angelina Westdorp.  But that’s not the full story. There are also numerous moments where electric guitar, bass and horns also add their magic.

Things start quietly with We’ve Got It All, a song from the Mobile album that sets the theme of quiet contentment that pervades the album. A pared-down production features just Peter and his softly-strummed acoustic guitar.  Drawing A Line is an altogether more lush affair as bass, keyboards, strings, horns and electric guitar all join the fun. Without losing the mood of relaxed contentment, this song takes a philosophical look at starting over and getting on with life.

It’s A Trap, the first of the songs from the relatively recent Low Key album, is the first of several songs that to me, recall Gerry Rafferty in his Night Owl period.  It’s a light, easy, band-led song with jangly guitar and understated percussion that leaves plenty of space for Peter’s excellent vocals.  For Dreaming Of A Time, Peter goes for a fuller sound with electric guitar and sax sharing the spotlight before we get our first taste of his piano ballad style on Lead Or Follow, another relaxed song with a lyric that offers encouragement to do what you feel, when you feel.

The Kindness of Others, another track from the Low Key album is a personal highlight. A thoughtful lyric points out the value that kind acts bring to our lives is backed by a softly chiming guitar and some wonderful vocal harmonies.

The Red Café, title track to the 2016 album, is another highlight, and this time things take a sadder, more enigmatic turn.  To a backing of a solitary piano, harmonized voices tell the story of a lapsed relationship and its lasting impact. It’s a sublime song and probably my favourite on the album.  The mood turns to frustration with (Why Won’t My) Dreams Take Flight, but whilst frustration is expressed by the lyrics, the music tells another story and the overwhelming emotion evoked by the song is far more optimistic.  Hook On The Line is another highlight and another song that expresses frustration as evidenced by the opening line “I live in hope, and it’s a small town” and includes statements like “My fish is out there and it’s taking its time.” Yet another song to be illuminated by excellent vocal harmonies.

If There Isn’t You, from the Mobile album, is another contemplative piano ballad, with a tune that draws in the listener and a lyric that culminates with the question “How can there be me if there isn’t you?”  A beautiful song with a sparse production that contrasts well with the lush style that is the more general flavour of the album.

Things are brought to a close with Peter’s two new songs.  In The Real World is a happy, instantly likeable and chugging soft rocker, before Peter signs off with Here, another piano song that restores the mood to one of absolute contentment.  An appropriate end to a thoroughly enjoyable album.  The music of Peter James Millson deserves to be heard and Selected Works is an excellent opportunity for the uninitiated listener to catch up with what he’s been up to.  Well worth a listen!

Watch the Official video to The Red Café – a track from the album – here:

Peter James Millson Online: Website/ Facebook/ YouTube

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