Chameleonic magpie maverick keeps enough of himself on board to be both convincing and a contender.
Release date: 21st July 2023
Label: Plastic Sound Records
Format: CD / vinyl / digital
Timebombs are a veritable fixture in the songwriter’s arc for various reasons, the image always a potent concept, whether you are Beck, Chumbawamba or Rancid, Kylie, even, all of whom have songs dedicated thereto. Adam Masterson is the latest, a name you may not know, not that that makes his any less the listening, let alone the album it titles. So who he, and why haven’t I heard of him? NY based and of London origin, he has form, onstage support for the likes of the Stereophonics and Tori Amos, as well as appearances with Patti Smith and the ex-Clash/B.A.D. man, Mick Jones.
This is his second solo release and he has so surrounded himself with seasoned musicians, from a wealth of backgrounds, so as to give a hue of well-worn durability. And, while he has produced it himself, there has just happened to be a panoply of experienced engineers around to add that extra polish: Tchad Blake and James Hallawell to name but two. (Sometimes I worry when the list of participants extends into too many lines, but, somehow, and remarkably, I defy you to spot who did what and where, such does it all hold sway as Masterson’s own work.) It might also be noted that, whilst this album has been available to download since February, only now is it to be released and more easily made available on vinyl and CD.
It is with bleak piano chords and some electronic tweaks that the album opens, Masterson’s voice a tremulous clarion, immediately grabbing attention. OK, the tune, for this title track, is naggingly familiar, but it captures still enough traction, strings swooping in to gloss, not too much, the overall effect. This mix of smooth with the relative grist of the vocal performance is an old trick. And a good one. “You’re the reason for why every bridge behind me burns.” It’s a great start, whetting the whistle for what might follow. Bring Back The Freaks doesn’t disappoint either, his voice dropping a semitone for a Springsteenesque ballad, circa 1980, the piano and organ interplay perfect, if the lyric is somewhat vaguer than the cars and girls of the Boss. Who the freaks? Well, it mentions Aleister Crowley, John Lennon and Van Gogh, amongst many others, so go figure. The strings are again a big presence, beginning to imbue a (Paul and) Barry Ryan texture into the mix, not necessarily an expected reference. A brief pause for WTF and, Bob’s yer uncle, it works! Chains is then a further meld of pre-Merseybeat 60’s melodrama and old school rawk, the mix an enjoyable unexpectedness. The shivery organ ripples in this are an elegant contrast to his beleaguered falsetto.
Take A Little Love ‘updates’ to a late 60’s psychedelic swirl, both lyrically and within the shifting jangle of guitars, a cross between the Small Faces and Jefferson Airplane, the latter through the massed chorale of vocals, that coo and caw behind Masterson’s chameleonic larynx. Run Away jumps on a similar vibe, and presents a sweet melody over tap tap percussion. Not for the first time, I find myself noting the bubbly bass runs. Given he is credited as one of the players, could it here be Glen Matlock? The twangy guitar is a winner on this one, too. Avenue Walk is a further Brooce-y strum, if with a structure Roy Orbison would have sold his soul for. Or written. The Kiss is then all urban jungle soundscapes before kicking off into an atmospheric organ-drenched direction, Masterson’s voice now a hoarse croon over reverb and echo. And you just know, or think you know, it’s going to crank up a gear or so, carefully holding back for longer than cliche would expect or demand, the acceleration then cautious and measured. If you quizzically play re-play, you wouldn’t be the first, maybe a number of times.
Crazy Rain is another throwback, the tune hooking assiduously into your ear, the tinkle of piano a delicious counterpoint. It’s a lovely song, offset then by the mean streets hustle of Wild Wolves, which, in an album chockful of references, is the first to maybe sound a bit generic. Possibly a single, then, should that idea mean anything in this day and age, and it would be a mid show highlight in any Top Of The Pops, 1970 through 1990. (And, yes, by the end, it’s already grown on me.) Ready for something completely different? Rusty Cans And Dusty Alleys is certainly that, an electric oompah anthem, somewhere between Rainy Day Women #12 & 35 and Big Bad John, every bit as schizoid as that sounds. You’ll love the nerve of it. Or not. I’m uncertain, but the retro guitar and whorehouse piano certainly helps it go down.
Anything would be a contrast after that, but it helps that Cry With No Tears is another emotional tearjerker, whether or not the tears show up, with all the slow incandescent canter of another lost Springsteen masterpiece. The backing is pure E Street, missing only the atonal honk of a Clarence or a Jake. To close, Masterson waves the streets of NYC goodbye, and heads up the Catskills, for the never more Van, class of 1970 , Leaves Against The Sky, his voice remaining his own, or one of them, rather than aping Mr M, and is all the better for that. Making for a solid and satisfying close to this recording, altogether a calculatedly clever and careful cross-stitch of ideas, where Masterson shows himself to be that most capable of magpies, one able to still maintain his own persona, if tipping so many nods about, to his heritage. One to keep an eye on, this two for joy offering delivering just that.
Here’s personal favourite Crazy Rain: