Languid summer fizz beckons a welcome return from missing, presumed lost, troubadour.
Release Date: 19th May 2023
Label: Azez Records
Format: CD / Digital
You know summer is on the brink, as the guitars get all of a jangle and thoughts turn to balmy bucolia in verdant fields, resplendent in hazy dreams of the midsummer sun of an English summer. Or maybe, but, whatever the weather, janglecoustica never fails to raise the sap. Janglecoustica? Sort of file under rock that is more roll, folk that is less trad and country that is west rather than western.
Emm you may know, possibly not, as it has been a while, he having brought out a bunch of discs between 2009 and 2014, each well received; the critics loved him, the cash tills less, so often the fate of many our decent songwriters. Rather than leaving the biz altogether, it appears he has been doing his gainful in public relations, where his list of clients crosses the spectrum from Sons of Kemet to Fairport, with all points eclectic in between. So has anything rubbed off in the intervening years? I am pleased to report, no, not really, it strictly business as usual, with no nu-jazz seeping into the sides of these well constructed songs. Written gradually over the years, a boost came recently as novelist Jacquelyn Chance saw fit to namedrop Emm’s earlier Christmas song, Gently, into her bestseller, The Certainty Of Chance, last year. With busy man, Lukas Drinkwater, at the production desk, as well as playing a fair bit in the studio, and no less than Maz O’Connor adding some ethereal vocals, let’s unwrap it.
Opening with the title track, and, no, it isn’t that one, the song is a woozy acoustic strum, Emm showing of his warm toddy of a voice, flickers of electric guitar and hazy organ gradually creeping in. A song of yearning, his voice carries just that mood, the guitar solo escalating that feeling. This enticing opener is followed by the piano chords of You Mean A Lot To Me, which introduces O’Connor’s exquisite tones, in harmony. A rhythm section slots in, with shards of steel guitar, possibly slide, adding emphasis to the chorus. November Evenings is a livelier alt-country rocker, with a nuanced contrast between the backing and Emm’s laid back vocal. The guitar play is wonderful, the sound that slightly clangy tone where the amplification feels muted, before the organ sweeps everything up in swathes of shimmer.
Morning Mist is all twangy mood music, a soliloquy to an absent lover, O’Connor spectral behind his melancholy. Possibly the first song to mention the railway station at Milton Keynes, it is becoming apparent that most of these songs contain some sense of loss or absence, and that is true too, for Tongue Tied, a simpler, strummed song that encapsulates a well recognised inability to articulate feelings. “The days go by, and I’m tongue tied, yet I don’t know why” says as much as is needed, the true feelings then unwinding in a near orchestral build towards the sudden ending. A masterful marriage of song and studio.
A hint of Neil Young and Crazy Horse inhabits the instrumentation and style of Another Day At the Top, not that the vocals stray anywhere away from his trusted template of hushed confessional, that contrast again paying dividends. My notes suggest doom-laden, and that seems apt, especially as O’Connor keens over the stoner jam that closes the song. The Leaving returns to the starker majesty of Tongue Tied, this time at the piano, with Drinkwater’s arrangement conjuring up yet more maudlin. “I showed you my heart in one way“; is that threat or regret, I wonder? If the answer is uncertain, Dwell is then a cheerier lift, at least musically, a fairground canter of organ, picked guitars and bounding drums.
Island Soul picks up on the hint of optimism and could almost be a calypso, with O’Connor adding some island spice to the chorus, the bass bubbling away like a carnival. Acceptance, I guess, making for the most uptempo song in the set. Which leaves only the acoustic endpiece of June, with its refrain of “it’s never too late to try again“, which could apply to just about anything, but love and a music career might seem both foremost in his thoughts. It sounds and feels hopeful, again with an orchestral feel to the backwash, that gradually builds, with a massed choral overlay. Let’s hope so. Don’t leave it so long, Terry, next time.
Here’s Island Soul: