‘Flatlands’ – KB Bayley

4 stars (out of 5)


KB Bayley’s last album ‘Little Thunderstorms’ was recorded during lockdown and had a very definite UK feel with a hint of COVID claustrophobia. ‘Flatlands’ is a very different album. It’s almost a solo performance with KB underpinning his intimate vocals with some widely varied Weissenborn arrangements and a smattering of haunting harmonica from Gavin Thomas on a couple of tracks. ‘Flatlands’ has also shifted its focus to the other side of the Atlantic with four covers of American songwriters and many American references in KB’s 6 self-penned songs.

So, ten songs played almost solo by KB with just the Weissenborn. If you wanted to choose a stringed instrument that gave a varied range of backing options, the Weissenborn would be near the top of the list – open tuning and the horizontal lap playing position make it a formidable backing instrument in the hands of a good player and KB Bayley is a very good player, creating a wide variety of soundscapes to enhance the narratives. Both the vocal and the Weissenborn are close-miked; you can hear tiny string noise and KB keeps the vocal intimate and slightly raw without having to push too hard.

A sense of loss runs through the album, the damage to communities caused by progress and the yearning for those little but important moments from the past that went by almost unnoticed at the time but take on importance as time passes. Part of the American feel comes from the well-chosen covers, Jean Ritchie’s ‘The L&N Don’t Stop Here No More’, Tom Waits’ beautifully-crafted ‘Johnsburg, Illinois’, Kelly Joe Phelps’ ‘The Black Crow Keeps on Flying’ and Jason Isbell’s ‘Maybe This Time’ seems to cut across the nostalgia theme by saying we should get rid of old faiths and superstitions, echoing the starting afresh theme of KB’s own ‘Year Zero’. KB has very cleverly pulled together six of his own songs and four favourites by other artists to create a unified piece with strands of nostalgia, regret and religious references running through it. His own song ‘Driftwood Avenue’, with Gavin Thomas’ haunting harmonica contains the line “Look for what’s been lost” and the first two verses reference the loss of Art Garfunkel and Paul Simon’s friendship.

It’s not easy to create a solo album with voice and instrument (apart from the harmonica contributions) but the versatility of the Weissenborn and KB’s fingerstyle mastery create a variety of textures for the songs that make a very satisfying album.

‘Flatlands’ is released on Friday November 4th.

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