‘The Art of Feeling Blue’ – Bob Bradshaw

4 stars (out of 5)


One of the many things I love about Bob Bradshaw is that he still firmly believes in the idea of the album; twelve songs (give or take one or two) chosen because they fit together and sequenced in a way that’s pleasing to the ear. Another thing I love is that he always likes to throw a few curveballs; just when you think you’re listening to an album of straight-ahead rock or Americana, he throws in something that stops you in your tracks. It can be an unexpected musical styling or an unusual melodic shift, or something else entirely.

‘Somebody Told Me a Lie’ is a perfect example; the theme of the song’s a cheating partner and it’s delivered with a crooner vocal and a Hawaiian shuffle setting with lap steel licks. The shock comes in the brief shift from common time to triple time to emphasise the line “While she was waltzin’ round the room”. It’s deliberately disorientating, emphasising the jolt of the realisation of infidelity. Bob does the straightforward rock stuff very well (the album’s opener ‘Waiting’ and the self-deprecatory ‘Hot in the Kitchen’ are conclusive proof of that) but he really shines as a storyteller, whether the stories are entirely fictional or based on reality, particularly when he tailors the musical stylings to the memorable subject matter.

Here’s a couple of examples for you. ‘The Silk Road Caravan’ is based around historical events while focussing on the story of the special partnership between man and horse. The arrangement reflects the geographical setting with a slightly Arabic and very percussive arrangement. An even better, and more harrowing example of this musical and lyrical synergy appears in ‘Rosa’ the story of a man attempting to break out across the Mexican border to start a new life before calling his sweetheart to join him. The song begins with a church bell and a flamenco guitar and builds through several sections until the panicked finale with squalling guitars and atonal trumpet (played by Calexico’s Jacob Valenzuela) indicating that the attempted breakout has failed disastrously. It’s a superb demonstration of the music playing a huge part in carrying the story forward.

There’s usually a bit of humour on a Bob Bradshaw album; ‘The Art of Feeling Blue’ is no exception. The title song is a slightly skewed, mocking take on melancholy, while ‘Thought I Had a Problem’ explores the characters that buy into the rock excess lifestyle, in this case “Weed and speed, moonshine, white wine and gin.” The cast of musicians is excellent as ever and a special mention goes to Kris Delmhorst (a hugely talented singer-songwriter in her own right) for her evocative backing vocals on seven of the twelve songs. There’s a huge amount of variety across the album as well as a sense that you’re never too far away from another pleasant surprise.

‘The Art of Feeling Blue’ is released in the UK on Friday June 16th on Fluke Records (FR12).

Here’s the video for ‘The Silk Road Caravan’:

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