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’:

Kris Delmhorst TitleYou have to admire the faith and dedication of musicians who fly across the Atlantic to spend their evenings playing to small audiences around the UK in an effort to get some recognition for their music. Kris Delmhorst and Hayward Williams completed their eleven days/eleven gigs UK tour at Green Note in Camden on Sunday with a couple of sets to warm the heart of even the most cynical of old gig warriors (and there were a few of those in the crowd).

The evening started with a short solo set from Hayward featuring mainly songs from his most recent album “The Reef”, including “Helping Hands (If I Go Under)”, “Beginnings” and the album’s closing song “Under Control”. Even without the band arrangements from the album versions the songs were strong and punchy (the guitar backing on “Beginnings” sounding a lot like The Jam’s “A Town Called Malice”) and Hayward’s laconic musings between songs about his home town of Milwaukee and various other subjects were perfect for a London audience.

After a short break, Hayward was back to join Kris for most of her set, strapping on the electric to supply a bit of extra weight to the arrangements and some very nice fills as well as some assured harmonies. The interaction between the two performers kept the audience involved between songs, particularly when Hayward took a break as Kris performed songs from earlier in her career and had his guitar “stolen” while he was off-stage.

If you haven’t heard of Kris Delmhorst, she’s a singer-songwriter who was born in New York, but now lives in Massachusetts, plays a variety of instruments, and writes songs about her life and the lives of those around her which she delivers in a laid-back style relying on interesting themes and melodies to deliver her message. “Blood Test” is her first album since 2008 and, unsurprisingly, features heavily in her live set. The musical arrangements on “Blood Test” aren’t overblown so it’s relatively simple, with a bit of creativity, to make them work with two voices and two guitars. Lyrically the album leans towards the re-evaluation that life events force on you, and that was reflected in the songs included in the live set.

The set opened with the low-key reminiscences of “Blood Test” and worked through “Saw it All” (with some lovely guitar fills from Hayward), “Bees”, “Homeless”, “We Deliver”, “Little Frame”, “Temporary Sun”, “92nd Street” and “Lighthouse”, all performed as a duo. To take a break from the new material, which the audience seemed to be pretty familiar with anyway, Kris threw in a few older songs including “Freediver”, “You’re No Train” and “Magic” (a song from her album of Cars covers).

This was the first time Kris has visited the UK since 2008 (just before her daughter was born) but I’m fairly certain it won’t be another seven years before we see her again. Judging by the response of the audience, I’m guessing that Hayward Williams gained a few fans for his solo set and for riding shotgun for Kris. It was the kind of gig that sends you out into the cold spring evening with your own personal glow.

“Blood Test” is available now on Signature Sounds or Kris’s website.

“The Reef” is available at CDBaby.