Undiscovered gems from enduring national treasure emerge, blinking and vibrant.
Release date: 7th October 2022
Format: Digital (via Bandcamp)
It is sometimes hard to realise for quite how long Ms. Sadenia Reader, to give her her full given, has been a part of the firmament, still such a lively and gamine presence at her regular festival appearances. So, to rub salt in our age-gained scars, it is a full 33 years since the nation was singing along with her and Fairground Attraction, beguiling us all with that song, and, yes, it was per-er-er-er-er-erfect. And, before that, a backing singer with assorted bands, most notably Eurythmics and, intriguingly, Gang Of Four. Following that, an enduring solo career, with a flurry of acclaimed albums and awards. Astonishingly, this is her first new work since 2018, and, like many an artist during the great plague, leaner times warrant a ransacking of the great drawer of lost songs, and she has a good ‘un, as this digital only release displays.
Rather than ancient and redundant curios of a bygone age, their vintage only stem from the making of her last two albums, Cavalier and Vagabond respectively, and demonstrate the wealth of material then available. Unsurprisingly, the hand of Boo Hewerdine, songwriter supreme and so often her right hand man at shows, is part of the deal, with a couple of his songs, many of the others being songs of her own, with a scattering of standards, or what should be, for good measure. Old faithful, Trad. Arr., pops up for a couple, too. And, with the likes of Phil Cunningham, her husband, John Douglas (Trashcan Sinatras), John McCusker, Ian Carr, Roy Dodds and Ewan Vernal on hand, amongst others, to embellish the arrangements, it clearly has to sound a dream, making Eddi’s own hands on the production desk no doubt that much easier.
The opener is a gloriously retro slink through the Johnny Mercer standard, Fools Rush In, which is all a band on the Titanic vibe, or, bizarre thought, possibly the Overlook Hotel. Her vocals a swirling and sumptuous joy, the soothing horns bathe all with a hazy glow of warmth in winter, some acoustic picking from, I guess, Carr, adding just the right mood. A promising start, which continues into a similar vein, if moving forward a decade or two, with a picture perfect riff of 50s Hollywood, Auld House, a sentimental ballad with lashings of strings over a clip-clop tinkly keyboard base. Corny? Not a chance; this well done it is just simply classy and hard to believe it is a new song, written this century by the singer herself. The late Gerry Rafferty’s Mary Skeffington, from his first solo album, follows, a sympathetic accordion bathed arrangement, with a touch more pace to it than the original, and the additional backing vocal of one Charlie Bessa-Reader. (Yes, indeed some relation, he being her eldest son.)
Another Reader original, Argyll, is a wistful folky paean to that region, Vernal’s bass a delight, underpinning picked acoustic guitar and delicate piano. Slowly building, her singing glides and soars over and around the melody, a heady invocation of glens and lochs. The traditional Love Is Pleasing slots in alongside with precision, and reminds of her magisterial way with this style, the accordion slipping down a treat, as whistles serenade the vocal. It is all up to the standard of her celebrated Songs Of Robert Burns, even with the distinct whiff of Ireland about this particular version, leading to the suspicion is is here Alan Kelly that is squeezing the box.
The great American songbook is the source for I’ll String Along With You; Frank Sinatra and Doris Day have both tackled it, as has Nat King Cole. More Cole than Day, the mood here evoked is back to Palm Court Orchestra styles, and I am back at the bar with Jack Torrance/Nicholson. Gorgeous. (Memo from Ed: get out more!) I Dreamt In Marble Halls remains in that same ambience, if in Scots baronial mood, this time in Cunningham’s hands. I confess a bit more of a foot on the accelerator might have been worth applying at this stage, the merest hint of soporific wavering in the wings during this further traditional tune. So I guess if you knew the next song had had life with Deanna Durbin and, gulp, the Beverly Sisters, you’d be worried, but Beneath The Lights Of Home is actually great. Sure, a similar tempo, but the stately piano, guiding it through, has a sparkle and precision that endears.
I can never tire of Michael Marra, the great, late Bard of Dundee. Reader’s version of Here Come The Weak is a delight, caressed within a cocoon of organ, with just about discernible distant swelling brass and a chorale of bvs giving a heft of additional atmosphere. If one is needed, here is a favourite. Which is a dangerous admission if there are still the two Hewerdines to come. The first, April Blues, a co-write with Reader, is languid and jazzy, with some exquisite steel to complement the stand-up bass. The second, I Thought It Was You is then yet another example of how well he can marry a tune with words. With the Gallic-infused accordion, I have to say it comes across slightly like a distant Parisian cousin of Til’ There Was You. This renders it no less charming but might make the estate of Meredith Wilson sit up. Finally, and to close the set, comes a final bit of trad., Light Is In The Horizon, the title being the album name, making this the title track. Actually, based upon a poem by Thomas Moore, if allied to a traditional air, the arrangement gives it a distinctly country hue, accentuated by the piano, string bass and brushed drums, and it ends the record with a deserved and given sense of satisfaction.
If some of the purpose of this project was to offer hope for the future, that light is in the horizon, offering the hope of a brand new dawn, yes, I think she has succeeded. New songs next, Eddi?
Here is that final title track, Light Is In The Horizon: