Stephen Fearing - 'Every Soul's a Sailor' - cover (300dpi) (1)Do turbulent social and political conditions create a fertile environment for artists? It’s a theory that’s had some support and I suspect we’re about to see and hear a lot more evidence over the next few years. The inauguration hasn’t taken place yet but I’ve already heard a couple of anti-Trump songs. Rita Hosking has replied to the infamous pussy-grabbing comments with a song that suggests a prompt and effective remedy of a toecap to the testicles, and Stephen Fearing’s song “Blowhard Nation” on “Every Soul’s a Sailor” neatly skewers the braggadocio of the president-elect and the motives of his supporters. The Merle Haggard/outlaw country arrangement of the song stands apart from the rest of the album, highlighting the song’s message as a contrast to the gentler themes elsewhere.

Stephen Fearing is a genuinely great singer/songwriter/guitar player with an equal emphasis on all three elements. The lyrical themes of the songs range from the elegaic “Gone but Not Forgotten”, through the melancholy regret of “Red Lights in the Rain” (as powerful an image as I’ve heard for leaving a relationship) to the regret for a passing era of “Things We Did”. The musical stylings are equally varied, from the AOR feel of the opener “Put Your Money Where your Mouth Is” to the raucous, rambunctious rebel stylings of “Blowhard Nation” which has maybe a hint of uptempo Jim Croce stylings thrown in as well. Each song has the perfect arrangement to emphasise its lyrical content and, whether it’s the skiffle/rockabilly feel of “Love Like Water” with acoustic guitar and stand-up bass, to the album’s closer “Every Soul’s A Sailor” with a close-miked vocal, two electric guitars and no bass or drums. It’s an unusual voicing, but it’s just right for the song, and that’s what it’s all about.

This is an album where the standards are high throughout whether you’re interested in well-constructed and inspired songs, evocative arrangements or outstanding vocal performances. There are no weak spots and dozens of highlights.

I’ll leave you with a lyric from “Blowhard Nation” concerning politicians generally:

Make no mistake, when they’re showing you the cake, they’ll never let you eat it now’  We might just be entering a new era of protest songs.

“Every Soul’s A Sailor” is released on Friday February 3rd on LowdenProud Records (LOWD60161)

the-miller-girl-scrollerLet’s just ease ourselves into 2017 with this little gem of ten superbly crafted songs written by Steve Hussey and arranged by his seventeen-year old collaborator, multi-instrumentalist, Jake Eddy, shall we? I’m not sure if you could call it a concept album, with all the negative baggage that brings, but it certainly follows a narrative, from the person who’s lost and floundering for the first three or four songs, finds his true love, and is redeemed by the album’s tenth song “Sweet”. It’s a simple story economically told and it’s a pretty good way to ease yourself musically into a new year.

The press release describes Jake Eddy as a prodigy and I wouldn’t argue too much with that. At the age of seventeen, he seems to have all manner of musical references at his fingertips from the brooding swamp feel of “Master Your Mind” to the delicate acoustic balladry of “The Miller Girl”, the tipping point of the album where the story transitions from shadow into light. “Into the Ether” could be a seventies rock tune (with banjo neatly replacing lead guitar), while “Better Day” feels like Jim Croce at his best and “Looking for Love” sounds for all the world like Bruce Chanel’s “Hey Baby” with fiddle fills; the multi-instrumental mastery is total.

The album isn’t about breaking new ground, it’s about creating the best art you possibly can with the existing materials and, in those terms it’s a complete success, a minor triumph even. The tunes are memorable, each vocal fits with the melody and the song’s subject matter, and the album takes you on a journey from the depths to the heights. I hope it’s a metaphor for the transition from 2016 into 2017.

Steve and Jake even manage to cook up a bit of fun with “Long List of Goodbyes”, a romp through the failed relationships of the past to lighten the mood before the quest for and acceptance of true happiness gets underway. Only an icy-hearted cynic could be unmoved by the story that unfolds as the album progresses and started life as a set of songs for Steve’s wedding.

“The Miller Girl” is released in the UK on Friday January 13 on Merf Records.