Charming mini-album from the master collaborator Boo Hewerdine
Release Date: 5th November 2021
Label: Reveal Records
Formats: limited CD / Digital
I don’t know how you spent your afternoon. I’ve just spent mine being absolutely charmed by the new mini-album from singer, songwriter, tunesmith and master collaborator Boo Hewerdine. Singularities is, indeed, a short work of great variety and great, great, beauty.
Singularities comes hot on the heels of Boo’s March 2021 release, Selected Works, and features just six tracks, each composed in collaboration with another artist and performed with the intricate attention to detail that we’ve come to expect from Boo Hewerdine. Boo’s collaborators this time around are Slovakian musician Vlado Nosal, Brian Johnson (surely not THAT Brian Johnson… or maybe it is…. after all, this IS Boo Hewerdine we’re talking about!) and Scottish singer-songwriter Jenny Sturgeon. Each of the collaborators is co-composer on two tracks and both Vlado and Jenny contribute to the performance of their respective co-compositions.
Boo tells the story of hoe Singularities came into existence:
“During lockdown, I started some wonderful songwriting relationships. This release celebrates three of these. Songs written and recorded remotely. We would meet once a week and the songs would come. Although I’ve missed playing live, I have rediscovered the joy of what I love doing the most.
I met Vlado Nosal when he came to see me play at a rather modest engagement in a Croydon pub. Five years later he contacted me, during lockdown, with a view to me being a mentor. It became apparent, almost at once, that there was nothing I could show him. I can’t tell you how much I enjoy writing with him. We meet once a week, regardless. Twice, when his WiFi has been misbehaving, he has driven around Bratislava till he could join a public WiFi, and sung in the back of his car. He is the singer in [a] wonderful Slovakian band called Queer Jane. Although less than half my age, we have an almost telepathic understanding. When we work together, we like to imagine we are in a band called Hotel Art. We like to write about hum-drum aspects of modern life and try to find some beauty there.
Brian Johnson was meeting me regularly to talk about songs. Over time, we came up with the idea of writing a set of songs about Vivian Maier, the legendary street photographer. We worked from his beautifully evocative lyrics and I really enjoy the freedom to explore melodic and stylistic ideas outside of my comfort zone. Like all this music, the recordings were started at home. My old friend, Gustaf Ljunggren, came up with the perfect horn arrangement, Chris Pepper added drums and mixed The Night is Young. I have really taken to this way of working. Frozen Light and Time is my bedroom demo and will have to do until we can afford an orchestra.
Jenny Sturgeon came on one of my songwriting workshops at Moniack Mhor. She is one of my favourite singers. Her album, The Living Mountain, is a thing of genuine beauty. I’m in Glasgow and she is in Shetland. The urban and the sea. We enjoy exploring a place where folk and electronica meet. I hope, one day, we record an album, and if we do, we will call ourselves Silence. No Words is one of my favourite songs I’ve had a part in. We decided that we had nothing to write about that day. So we wrote about that.”
Well – all I can really add to that comprehensive commentary is that it’s all come together beautifully. Singularities is a fantastic album, from start to finish.
The wonderful British Summertime opens the album and, in the process, lets us know exactly the kind of treat we have in store. Greenwich pips herald one of the best opening lines I’ve heard this year – “One day we’ll all be obsolete, we’ll go the of VHS and BetaMax” – and a tuneful, wistful, song that vividly evokes Paul McCartney, both musically and lyrically. It’s clear, even at this stage, that the Hewerdine/Nosal partnership is a fruitful, powerful team.
The strength of that team is further demonstrated in Hotel Art. With yet another great opening line – “Room 101, here I am again – Could be anywhere, could be now or then “– that will surely resonate with anyone who has spent an unwelcome proportion of their life in faceless hotel rooms, it’s a lovely observational song. An understated backing, based around a light drumbeat ensures that focus is given to Boo’s excellent vocal.
Brian Johnson is the collaborator for the wonderful The Night Is Young, a song that manages to combine seamlessly the opposing images of sophistication and sleaze. Soft drums, divine horns, touches of vibes and piano and a stunning vocal delivery all add to the imagery as the listener is transported to a late-night cocktail bar in 1930s Manhattan. Truly wonderful!
As Boo has explained, the version of the album’s other Brian Johnson collaboration, Frozen Light And Time is a bedroom demo that features Boo alone, on piano and vocal. The song is a heartfelt tribute to Vivian Maier, the photographer who, from the mid 1930s, captured hundreds of street scenes in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Her work was largely unrecognized during her lifetime, earning her the epithet of “Photography’s Best Kept Secret.” Boo has hinted that frozen Light and Time may be re-recorded when suitable orchestration can be mustered; actually, the sparse production on offer here seems, at least to me, to be the perfect complement to the monochrome subject matter of the song.
The mood changes again for the album’s two Jenny Sturgeon collaborations. For the intriguing Lines, a pulsing electronic backing replaces the sparse monochrome piano, as Boo delivers a lyric that explores the myriad physical and abstract manifestations of the song’s title entity – all topped off with some exquisite vocal harmonies from Jenny.
Boo has described Jenny as “…a wonderful singer who can change the atmosphere in the room with her affecting delivery” and that’s a skill that Jenny gets to demonstrate as she takes the vocal lead in the album’s closing track, No Words. As Boo has already indicated, No Words is a song about nothing, but it’s beautiful, with a song that gets right inside your head. A fantastic closer to a fantastic album
Over the past decade, Boo Hewerdine has spent a great deal of time collaborating with many young artists, taking musical risks and focusing on the minute details of life through his own songs. Singularities represents the most recent stage of that particular journey, and it’s a journey that has, we hope and expect, still a long way to go. He’s already close to finishing another full album’s worth of songs and he expects to release that next album some time in 2022. After hearing Singularities, I, for one, can’t wait.
Listen to The Night Is Young – one of the Boo Hewerdine/Brian Johnson collaborations on the album – here:
Boo Hewerdine Online: