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(45:28; Backwater Records)
Over the years I have built very positive relationships with many labels, and one I have come to admire is Backwater Records, who are based in Suffolk. I can honestly say I have yet to receive a poor release from the label, and I never know what to expect except that each release always contains very strong songs and performances. However, it has come to my attention that head honcho Steve Mann sometimes plays a musical part on some (but not all) of them, but he never tells me before I have heard it. In that respect he reminds me of my great mate TeMatera Smith who always wants me to listen to music from AAA Records with a totally open mind, never pushing himself forward as being more involved with a release than normal. That is exactly what we have here, as although there is a drummer on a few tracks, a female singer on two of them, and a cellist on one, the rest is all Steve. 20 songs were recorded using vintage instruments and equipment over Summer/Autumn 2020, of which 14 have made it to the album, which is a delight from start to finish. Steve may have been worried that my review would have been tempered by understanding from the start that in many ways this is a solo album, but when music is as good as this then all a reviewer can do is attempt to get listeners to understand they need to hear it. It is a songwriter’s album, while the genres are mixed and while there are elements of folk, there are also strong Seventies influences (yes, we get some prog!) and even some which could be described as pop punk. There are guitar elements that have been lifted from Hackett, combining with lyrics and approach which could be classic angst-ridden Ian Dury. There are lush keyboards and strident electric guitar, or delicate birdsong and acoustics, all bring brought to bear in whatever way makes the most sense. It is an album which pointedly refuses to sit within any particular genre, and it is possible to listen to a section here, and a section there, and be hard-pressed to comprehend they come from the same artist. Steve enjoys telling stories in his lyrics, and I must confess it is the first time I have come across someone describing themselves as a lighthouse (“I Am A Lighthouse”), or talking about working in a museum (“Dusty Clocks”). This collection of stories is poignant, delicate and dramatic, and one never knows where the journey is going to lead, except that it will be definitely worthwhile. One to savour.
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