“Let It Be” – Simon Murphy

4 stars (out of 5)

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Simon Murphy TitleIt’s fair to say that it’s been a while since we featured an artist from Northern Ireland, but equally fair to say that Simon Murphy is one that’s worth waiting for. “Let it Be” is Simon’s debut featuring twelve songs that exude the assurance that comes when they’ve been well and truly tried out and developed in a live setting. Nothing feels out of place on the album, which has a wide variety of instrumental stylings to support songs that are sometimes heartfelt, sometimes witty, but always superbly crafted. The songs are good enough to work with only acoustic guitar as backing (as “The Idiot” does on the album), but contributions from Anthony Toner (slide, lap steel and electric guitars), Linley Hamilton (trumpet) and Kaz Hawkins (vocals) all help to create perfect backdrops for Simon’s songs.

The album’s opening song, the uptempo “Once Upon a Time”, grabs the attention immediately with an outrageously infectious chorus and catchy trumpet hooks and from there on it’s a bit like Thunderbirds: ‘anything can happen in the next half hour’. “Not in my Name”, “Here Goes Nothing”, “My Baby” and “2 Ghosts” are all built around acoustic guitar and either violin or cello while the beautiful “The Idiot” is stripped back to just guitar and vocal, the perfect backing for the song with no distractions, allowing lines like ‘Girls are from Venus, boys they’re from bars’ to stand out. “Evergreen” has similar instrumentation but the Nashville styling also brings in lap steel and some lovely harmonies from Charlene Law, who complements Simon’s voice perfectly adding honey to each song she appears on; you just have to love the irony of ‘Teach me patience, but do it fast’.

The Life of Brian’s Son” and “I Smell a Rat” both have a much rockier feel (a hint of The Cars, maybe) and poke fun at the ‘all style, no substance’ pop culture and its adherents. “The Life…” upends positive clichés to create some of its impact while “I Smell a Rat” melodically sticks the knife in to a serial self-promoter. It’s a pretty effective way of dealing with the inevitable chancers you meet in the music business; don’t get mad, get melodic.

Meet Me on the Other Side” and “Lone Star Heart” are delivered in a country rock style with chiming guitars and perfect backing vocals which evoke The Gin Blossoms’ “New Miserable Experience” (a classic of its time, or is that just me?) and the primal stomp of “I Have a Voice” benefits hugely from the voice of Kaz Hawkins. The album is twelve great songs played well and sung convincingly.

If you like a bit of melancholy in your music (me, how did you guess?), then this just might appeal to you. Simon has a voice which conveys emotion without using any of the diva tricks, evoking Gin Blossoms’ Robin Wilson, Rob Thomas and my old favourite Iain Matthews, and a bunch of great songs to play with; “Let it Be” certainly does it for me.

Out now.