It happens every couple of years; we get a new Bob Bradshaw album, and they’re always worth waiting for. Bob’s a very credible singer with a voice that can bristle with taut emotion or smoothe off the edges to demonstrate a rich baritone for the ballads that has a hint of later-period Elvis Costello. The varied arrangements seem almost effortless and always work to emphasise the qualities of the songs, which are also a rich and varied selection of musical and lyrical styles. As you make your way through “Queen of the West”, the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place. It’s not a linear narrative, the album opens somewhere in the middle of the story before bouncing back and forth through various critical episodes in the life of Ruby Black, Queen of the West before the album ends with a trilogy of relationship songs which may or may not feature Ruby, closing with tragic story of a boatload of refugees burnt out within sight of the shore – close enough to hear the sounds of the children singing.

And what about those varied styles? Well, the album opens with the beautifully atmospheric and, appropriately widescreen, title song building the atmosphere with floor toms, shimmering guitar and strings as the narrative opens with a tentative reunion for Ruby. It’s a seductive start that sets the scene perfectly for the rest of an album that impresses with its quality and innovation. As an example, three songs in, “Ruby Black”, with its atonal, angular guitar riff pulls together Ruby’s prayer to the saints for her sick child with reminiscences of her musical career, ending with a choral reply from the saints. Which then leads into the almost vaudeville style of “1-800-SOSAINT” pitching the saints as options on a prayer helpline – it’s clever, original and masterfully delivered. Other favourites? Pretty much anything really, but the incredibly catchy “High Horse” and the laconic “Story Goes” have been heavily praised here at Riot Towers.

There’s a lot of chatter about the demise of the album these days and “Queen of the West” is a great example of a piece of work that’s well-written and structured in a way that keeps you engaged throughout. The character of Ruby is developed in a way that pulls you in to her story, crying at the heartache and smiling at the diamond-hard public persona. “Queen of the West” is designed to be listened to as a single piece – it’s a rewarding experience.

“Queen of the West” is out now on Fluke Records (FR10).

I reviewed the latest Bob Bradshaw album “American Echoes” fairly recently and I loved the contrast between the raw rock power and the subtlety and delicacy. It was the album of a musician who had learned his craft the difficult way and then gone on to study the subject from an academic viewpoint. It was a background that led him create a very fine piece of work. When we put the call out for 2017 High Fives, Bob was the first to respond with these great recommendations. 

‘”Shotgun’” by Spoon from “Hot Thoughts”

– as pure a shot of smart pop/rock as I’ve heard in a long time. 

 

 

 

 

“Eastern Light” by Tift Merritt from “Stitch Of The World”

– it’s scary how vulnerable Tift Merritt allows herself to sound on “Eastern Light”, a masterclass in expressive singing.

 

“The System Only Dreams In Total Darkness” by The National from “Sleep Well Beast”

– best song on the new album: great singing and arrangement, and a bone-fide guitar solo to boot.

 

 

 

 

Holding On” by The War On Drugs from “A Deeper Understanding”

– I’m sometimes on the fence about Adam Granduciel’s singing and lyrics but the orchestral sweep of Holding On keeps me coming back for another listen.

 

 

 

“Sorry Is Gone” by Jessica Lea Mayfield from “Sorry Is Gone”

– best unexpected ear-worm of the year, this one snuck up on me and then wouldn’t let go…. I’m sorry but sorry is gone.

 

It’s a musical ‘all you can eat’ buffet; a long-time outsider’s view of American popular music exploring some of the high protein meat dishes, but meandering through some of the more delicately flavoured and textured dishes as well. To add to the complexity, it’s a set of songs created by a self-taught musician who also happens to have studied for a popular music degree. Sophistication and raw rock power are both on the menu for this musical feast. On his previous album, “Whatever You Wanted”, Bob Bradshaw saved the best (in my opinion) for last, closing the album with the wonderful road song, “The Long Ride Home”. On “American Echoes”, he opens with the lovely, acutely-observed “Exotic Dancers Wanted”; all of smalltown America is there as he melds Tom Waits with Bob Seger’s “Mainstreet” to create a quiet classic of a song about desperation, drugs, booze and pole-dancing. He even throws in a W.B. Yeats reference.

To keep the culinary metaphor on the boil, “American Echoes” is a smorgasbord of musical stylings, or a pick ‘n’ mix if prosaic is your preference. It ranges all the way from the out and out rocker “Weight of the World”, with its huge riff, two guitars and The Who stylings to the acoustic ballad “Stella” with a Chris Izaak guitar sound and a vocal that’s a dead ringer for Elvis Costello in lower-register ballad mode.

There’s a bit of lyrical invention as well, to match the musical melange. “My Double and I” is a modern take on the Jekyll and Hyde theme matched up with a laid-back New Orleans jazz groove (with a nod towards Steely Dan’s “East St Louis Toodle-oo”), while “Working on My Protest Song” combines the kind of rhythms Paul Simon discovered in Africa with a mildly sarcastic dig at musicians who opportunistically appropriate protest movements for their ends. And the list goes on.

The bottom line is that Bob Bradshaw has produced another very fine album indeed. “American Echoes” is packed with great lyrical and musical ideas and gets better with repeated plays.

“American Echoes” is released in the on UK Fluke Records on Friday October 20.

Bob Bradshaw Cover TitleBob Bradshaw’s sixth album, “Whatever you Wanted” is a collection of songs inspired by the musical styles he’s been exploring in his adopted country, America, taking a leisurely stroll through various styles and adopting arrangements and textures from new country, old country, roots, and tex-mex along the way. The instrumentation on the album covers a wide range, from the reined-in acoustic, electric and strings of the opening song “The Start of Nothin’” (not sure that I would want to open an album with that particular message) to the old soul vibe of “Before” with horns, Hammond and strings creating a lush background for the laconic vocal. The arrangements all have a very light touch, and “Before” still seems to have lots of space even with trumpet, flugelhorn, trombone and strings adding spice to the percussion, bass, guitars and keys.

The songs are all well-crafted and very listenable, but Bob Bradshaw’s voice is the real selling point for the album; it’s warm and soulful and the close-miking creates a very intimate feel that shifts seamlessly from the silky, Chris Izaak-like “Crazy Heart” to the Bob Seger feel of the album’s perfect closing track, “The Long Ride Home”. The lyrical themes shift from the opening song’s nostalgia, through several breakup songs (including the title track and the album’s most raucous song, the swamp rock of “Losing You”), introspection (“Dream” and “High”) and the allegorical “Sparrow”, which has more than a hint of “Norwegian Wood”.

It’s certainly not a chore to listen to “Whatever you Wanted”, but, for me, everything fits into place on the album’s final song. “The Long Ride Home” is a superb little vignette, evoking perfectly the band on the road leaving the scene of the crime. The backdrop is minimal with only piano, guitar and lap steel supporting Bob Bradshaw’s laconic, world-weary, end-of-a-long-day vocal and the Bob Seger comparison’s difficult to resist, the theme bring the same as Seger’s road classic “Turn the Page”.

As a whole, the album suffers a little from the Bob Bradshaw’s eclecticism; every time you think you’ve got a grip on it, a new style comes along and it slips out of your grasp. There’s nothing you wouldn’t want to listen to again, but it never quite seems to hang together and it feels like you want the band and Bob to really cut loose and rock out a little. After the first eleven tracks, it’s a very solid three-star album, but the final song ensures that the album creates a haunting impression that fixes it in the memory.

“Whatever you Wanted” is out on Friday November 13th on Fluke Records.