West coast textures continue further to permeate this Lancastrian’s studio wizardry, without quite clipping his Byrdsy wings.
Release date: 28th October 2022
Label: Kool Kat Music
Ian M. Bailey’s Songs to Dream Along To was a particular favourite of last year, with the opening song, This Is Not A Feeling, possibly in the running for the year’s strongest earworm. So, barely a year later, to find he has only been and gone and done it, and issued another prime slice of landlocked UK-Americana, it is all ears open here. Again, it is the dream team of Bailey and the ex-Cosmic Rough Rider, Daniel Wylie, that are responsible for this jangle-fest of words and music, co-writes that allow Bailey to soar. Playing, again, the parts of the whole band, and all of the singers, Bailey has once more constructed this precision piece alone, in his home studio, the end product seeming to defy that truth or the laws of physics. The whole as much fun as you can have with a Rickenbacker electric 12 string, the only additional player is Alan Gregson, for some pedal steel, and for the string arrangements.
Last time around, the debt to all things Byrdsian was writ large and obvious, as well as to artists in equivalent thrall to McGuinn and his crew, many often hailing from this side the pond, Wylie’s old band included. Here the palette is wider and broader, if also never losing sight of the primary source. See how many influences you can spot, whilst you also search for the join, a task in which you may fail.
After that build, the (almost) titular opener, Paint The Picture, will wrongstep you, at least as it opens, redolent of some early Who track. Until, that is, the harmonies and 12 string come parachuting in, and the territory becomes familiar. Not as instant as the opening last time around, it steadily beats a way into warranting a replay. I Wanted The Sun To Shine then tosses in a REM-like structure to the plot, even if the vocals are pure McGuinn, with a meandering organ backdrop that holds the attention. The first surefire banger is The Year Of The Tiger, a swirling mantra of a tune, the repeat with changes of a never more Doors-y keyboard motif, raising expectation after expectation of how it will progress. You wait for his voice but it never comes, a masterstroke, especially for such a vocal player. Which makes for the pleasure of I Don’t Want To Start Again all the stronger, another Byrds/REM mash-up, where Bailey almost manages to shoehorn some Stipe into his delivery. This would be my single, were they still a consequential entity.
The spirit of Croz raises his head for the trippy Dreams Of Love, where Gregson’s strings suddenly swoop in for a middle eight that adds a whole extra layer of mysticism to the freakflag. Motoring through the middle section, Bailey now on a roll, the pop-rock of Brazil another clever synthesis of styles, echoing both the Turtles and, in the melody line, even Santana, with another Manzarek-friendly organ progression, followed, for good measure, by some Krieger like guitar. (Ain’t got no-one to light my fire, maybe?) Springing further changes, Life Without You is a love song that evokes Malibu, all surf, sand and flatbed trucks. And of course, I have never been.
Just as you feel Bailey might be trying too hard, Hey Little Girl morphs straight back into the mindset of last year’s release, a charming and deceptively simple jewel of a song, jangle central, even if Change Is Easy, next up, seems at first the same song, which can be initially confusing.
Lover’s Song, next, with pedal steel whines, is redolent of early-stage Eagles, when they still had country in their rock, or possibly Poco. From the same family tree, anyway, it is a slight song, a pleasant palate cleanser, which brings down the mood nicely. Which is exactly the required headspace for Sitting In Silence, a moving and melancholy minor key strum that gets stuck under your skin, a thoughtful nightcap to ponder on, in the silence, sitting, as the record ends.
Not as instant as last year’s somewhat surprise breakthrough, this is an ambitious successor, not content to merely replicate, adding further moods and modalities to a mix that might show there are more feathers to this flyer than first appearances could have suggested. Time to hone these and the earlier songs on the road?