Album Review

Nigel G. Lowndes – Hello Mystery: Album Review

Bristol singer/songwriter Nigel G. Lowndes brings us songs of everyday life – with added Quirk!

Release Date:  26th March 2021

Label: Self Release

Formats: CD / Digital

I am so pleased that I’ve had the pleasure of acquainting myself with the singular songwriting talents of Bristol’s Nigel G. Lowndes.  Singular, because Nigel has that remarkable and enviable capability to take the mundane, make it interesting, and then add a quirky twist that leaves the listener baffled and bemused, and often highly amused.  On his debut album, Nigel has collected a set of songs that tackle an eclectic range of subjects, including cups of tea, shoes, bubbles, relationship games, London, mystery and, in a radical departure from the mundane, cute fluffy vampires.

Hello Mystery was born in December 2017, when Nigel recorded the song Mystery (the album’s almost-title track) with Chris Pepper at Chris’s new studio.  He subsequently participated in a series of songwriting workshops, run by Boo Hewerdine (who Nigel refers to as his “Musical Mentor and Friend”) and Darden Smith, after which he committed himself to a year-long Song-a-Week challenge.  And some of the fruits of that challenge are here to be enjoyed on Hello Mystery.

Although on the surface, Hello Mystery appears to be a home-made affair. Nigel and Chris spent most of 2020 creating the album, with all the difficulties of lockdown to overcome, and between them they play most, if not all of the instruments between them. The songs are actually very well-produced and superbly crafted and the instrumentation is well-chosen – basically, guitar/bass/drums, with sympathetic use of keyboards and harmonica to add colour. The production rightly focusses on Nigel’s clear, tuneful voice and, most importantly, the lyrics, which are, after all, the raison-d’être for this album.  And the end result is hugely interesting and great, great fun.

Nigel lists his influences as Johnny Cash, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Squeeze, Elvis Costello, Blondie and classic British rock and pop, and it’s possible to detect strains of all of these in the songs on Hello Mystery.  It’s a broad church, and, indeed, one of the striking aspects of Hello Mystery is the wide range of contrasting musical styles, all of which are lovingly and competently delivered.

Right from the outset, the listener just knows that this album will be fun.  Opening track Boring, all punchy, jangly guitars and in which Nigel shows his Elvis Costello colours, gives the first taste of Nigel’s exquisite lyricism, with couplets like “You’ve always got too much to say – conversation’s meant to be two-way,” and I just love the deliberate mis-rhyme of “I know where I’m at…. But [you] think I’m a twit.”  Several of the album’s songs include a pleasant surprise at the play-out, and Boring provides the first such example with its repeated “Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah.”  At the end of the track, I wrote in my notebook: “This is going to be good!”

Tell Me Tomorrow – a thoughtful song that deals with the preparation for and deferment of looming disappointment – is slower, folkier, and carries a bit of an East European feel, and the hilarious Furry Little Vampires tells a story of a partner’s rejection in favour of the cute creatures he buys with the intention of making his lover’s life more complete – to a tune that combines 1930s jazz with bluegrass!

Let’s Play A Game is a delicious doo-wop pastiche with lyrics that describe a couple hedging around each other in a relationship that appears to be going nowhere – that is until the payoff line: “Your place or mine” – by far the most direct, effective and desired piece of communication they’ve made with each other, before we enter the realm of light clubland pop with Bubble, with its wonderful theme of escapism.

Probably the most outstanding song on the album, Cup Of Tea gets underway to the sound of a kettle just coming to the boil.  It’s a kitchen sink drama with a twist, that is highly reminiscent of Squeeze in both content and delivery.  Indeed, only Nigel or Chris Difford (or perhaps Ray Davies) would think of rhyming “…Family drama” with “What a palaver” as the lyrics delve into typical lines of gossip taking place around the teapot.  It’s only as the song reaches its climax that the listener realizes that the narrator is alone and that he’s gossiping to himself and, as his friends are driven to remark, “[That’s] Not too good for his mental health.”  It’s an excellent, quirkily English song that’s brought to a wonderful conclusion with the line “Milk and two sugars please,” followed by the sound of a teacup being stirred.

Nigel next explores his C&W leanings with White Roses, a country waltz tune with lyrics that are actually quite sad, despite being delivered in pastiche style and laced with girly harmonies.  But the serious interlude doesn’t last long, before the bluesy Shoes ups the quirk quotient once again, particularly in its chorus refrain of “Have You Seen My Shoes?”  This time, the song’s payoff line is the, obviously heartfelt, “This life’s best as entertainment….. Hard to make it your renumeration.”

Mystery – not quite the album’s title track – is another special highlight.  It’s another country-flavoured song, with brushed drums and subtly strummed guitars providing backing to an excellent, thought-provoking lyric that hints at the role of social media in providing everything we need (and don’t need) to inform a relationship whilst, in the process, destroying any element of the mystery that is such a valuable commodity in sustaining that relationship.

This thoroughly entertaining album is brought to a close with Always Leaving London, a pleasant, folky song with evocative and slightly enigmatic lyrics and a nice acoustic guitar backing.

Hello Mystery is a highly enjoyable album that demonstrates that quirky English songwriting is alive, well, and living in Bristol.  Thanks Nigel – you’ve made a wonderful album!

Watch the official video to Boring from Nigel G. Lowndes – a track from the album and the current single – below.

Nigel G. Lowndes Online: Website/ Bandcamp / Facebook / Spotify / YouTube

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