shoulder to shoulder scrollerIt can be easy to define an album by what it isn’t rather than what it is. “Shoulder to Shoulder” doesn’t push anything up to eleven, there aren’t any self-indulgent solos and there isn’t any autotune or electronic trickery to fool you into hearing substance where none exists. What this album has is eleven powerful and beautifully-crafted songs, superb vocal performances and arrangements that allow the quality and emotion of the songwriting to shine through. The album features the current single “Here It Comes Again”; it’s probably the most radio-friendly, but it’s not entirely representative of “Shoulder to Shoulder”.

The album is strongest when the songs deal with serious subjects. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with the two Charlie Dore/Chris While co-writes “Slim to Nil” or “Nothing Yanks My Chain (Like You Do)”; they’re bouncy and full of clever wordplay and they offer a contrast to some of the more serious songs that define the overall mood.

“Pride” opens slowly with a gentle guitar intro and picks up momentum to become a full-on anthem to sexual tolerance and standing shoulder under the rainbow banner; it’s a cracking song with a potent message. “Are We Human” challenges insularity generally, and in particular our attitudes to the current refugee crisis and the haunting “Pinjarra Dreams” shines a light on the scandalous treatment of British children sent from homes and orphanages to Australia. The songs have a definite political edge, but they’re generally told from a human perspective.

“Leap of Faith”, the final While/Dore composition is the joyful and poignant story of a mother about to be reunited with her daughter after twenty-five years apart on opposite sides of the world, closing out beautifully when the two actually meet. Equally moving is Julie Matthews’ “Ordinary Day”, a bleakly tragic piece of the everyday pathos of bereavement (with a little hint of WH Auden). It’s not happy but it’s beautifully observed.

“Shoulder to Shoulder” is a hugely accomplished piece of work that reflects the talents and experience of Chris While and Julie Matthews. The songs are varied musically, moving with ease from gentle contemplation to pop inflections and even anthems, and the lyrics range from whimsical to profound. I don’t think you can ask for much more than that.

“Shoulder to Shoulder” is out on Friday September on Fat Cat Records via Circuit Music (FATCD 035).

Earlier this year we reviewed the Chris While and Julie Matthews album, “Who We Are”, so when the time came to put together this year’s High Fives, we asked Chris While for a contribution. Here are her five favourite guitar breaks.

Richard ThompsonRichard Thompson’s lyrical riffs after the first verse in “Who Knows Where the Time Goes” -- Fairport Convention. I know every note of that solo and can’t help humming along with it. Richard is so musical it hurts!

 

 

 

Michael LandauMichael Landau on “Native Son” -- James Taylor. Dreamy notes with so much space, I can just listen to that outro again and again.

 

 

 

 

Jerry DouglasGerry Douglas on “Forget About It” -- Alison Krauss. When he goes into that minor section in the solo, I stop breathing.

 

 

 

 

Chris While and Julie MatthewsHoward Lees, “Now That Love is Gone” from our album “Perfect Mistake”. I have been playing with this genius player now for 30 years! When Julie Matthews and I recorded this song it ended up being a rumba with a tango bridge. We just gaped at each other when Howard broke into classical Spanish style, there isn’t anything he can’t play -- incredible!

 

 

Bonnie RaittBonnie Raitt -- Just about anything she plays……

Who We AreThis folky duo  have been around since ’94 although they evolved out of the much respected Albion Band and have already produced a “Best Of…” in 2006 so they are not short of musical and life experience to write about and this CD definitely focuses on interesting subjects rather than doomed love. The themes might not surprise you in this folk/country genre: dying babies, war and a tribute to the oldest holocaust survivor, who died earlier this year. “Who We Are” is their ninth studio outing for the Fat Cat label. They are frequent nominees as well as winners of Radio 2’s Folk awards and they have been covered by many acts including Mary Black, Fairport Convention and Barbara Dickson.

This is no acoustic camp-fire session though; the instrumentation is quite rich and diverse, allowing for some creativity with the arrangements.   The overall effect is that of sounding more expensive, but with disciplined production values; the outcome is balanced. My issue with it is probably one of tempo, which is a bit samey. The ballads tend towards upbeat while some of the other songs could use a little more energy.

This collection of all-new songs starts in a jaunty mood with “If This Were Your Last Day” with its bright jangly guitars and vocal harmony that asks us to ditch our regrets; ‘Would you do it another way/ if this were your last day?’ This is the most obvious single of the set, with its catchy chorus and daytime radio-friendly lyric. Their voices blend effortlessly and to great effect, my only comparison might be vaguely to the Indigo Girls. The musicianship is of a consistently high quality throughout, lending this album a sophisticated, professional atmosphere.

My favourite tracks are: “Drop Hammer”, a rhythmic vocal composition about women’s war effort in the Sheffield steel mills and “Mad Men”, a more contemporary arrangement, focussed on planetary ecology. I’m sure this collection of songs will keep the fans happy but I just don’t know their back catalogue well enough to know if this is their best yet.