the mike davies column august 2018

pete williams

An acronym for Hope Our Love Lasts And Never Dies, derived from local graffiti where he grew up in the Black Country, H.O.L.L.A.N.D. (Baseheart) is the third solo album from Dexys and The Bureau founder, PETE WILLIAMS. The third in his so-called Sheffield trilogy (where it was recorded) it features his regular band of co-producer Shez Sheridan (guitars, lap-steel), Dean Beresford (drums), Laurence Saywood (bass) and Andy Wellings (guitar) and traces a theme of borders and staging posts.

holland

Inevitably often redolent of the soul influences that permeated his previous bands (and Williams has never really been given the credit he deserves for the early Dexys sound), it opens on such a note with the tumbling chords of Lucky In Love, a romantic track about growing older that also conjures Richard Hawley and offers further evidence that Williams is one of the very best of underrated British songwriters.

Recent single, the stomping Wind Whispers is up net followed by the piano-led balladry sway of Caledonia, which isn’t the familiar evergreen but which, with a lengthy instrumental intro, does have a Scottish soul in which The Blue Nile meets Scott Walker in another nod to roaming through nature (“the lark and the glen I prefer to the fen and the flatlands”). The softly sung and equally romantic Heart Etc (as in absence makes) shifts musical territory to a sort of classy lounge vibe veined with hints of Latin in its guitar work as he sings of thinking of home and his woman (“If I might just be so bold I like the way she fills her sweater’) while on a long haul flight 35,000 ft above Surabaya.

Twists of Fate returns to his early soul groove, though perhaps, and especially lyrically, Difford and Tilbrook might be a more apposite touchstone, then, midway in, he shifts to a folks blues strum with Road, its jaunty melody and initial mentions of sunny Birmingham afternoons at odds with its ‘there by the grace’ lyric about selfish greed and those without hope and on the ropes.

Initially suggesting a moody and sultry acoustic ballad, Twice Around The Bend explodes into a drum thundering and handclap beat existential flurry about the ephemerality of life that has a touch of the Morrisseys about it. Photograph reins the mood back in with an emotionally sung, dreamy, bass-pinned acoustic slow waltz ballad about memories and those that have passed or moved on.

But then it jerks you back awake with the reverb surf guitar that kicks off So Far So Good, another song musing on love and mortality, that driving bass-throbbed march beat shaping the choruses while the verses ease back into a more intimate, reflective mood, the bridge musically transporting you to the Andalucian wilds.

The album’s longest track, Paradise, alternately leisurely and spiky, with its hints of ELO strings, is a breathily sung, semi-spoken lyrically upbeat (“for the first time in a long time I’m happy and smiling”) memory of a journey across Europe to post revolution Romania that ends with whistling and a psychedelic Beatlesesque coda.

Pete breaks out the ukulele for the brief nursery box melody of the bittersweet yearning Fondly, fading way into the sound of the sea lapping before the album closes with the On A Night Such As This, its reflective lyrical to and fro between dark and light echoes in the musical shape-shifting as the underpinning fingerpicked Spanish acoustic is punctuated by flourishes of reverb guitar and portentous drums as it builds to a tumultuous climax with Williams singing “who is that shouting out in the hall, I can hear a voice but that is all.”

In a just world this would be one of the albums of the year. Make it one of yours.

layla

Apparently a regular at the Station in Kings Heath, I confess that LAYLA TUTT is a new name to me, registering on my radar by way of The Bedsit Tapes, a live and acoustic solo debut produced by Rob Peters and available from Polar Records in York Road or to download at https://laylatutt.bandcamp.com

layla sleeve

Self-described as “a lover of assonance and dissonance, she is thrilled by rhythm and rhyme”, the album is a spare and urgently played and sung affair that speaks of blues, folk and late 60s Woodstock (think Mitchell, Sainte-Marie, Joplin, Havens) influences that kicks off in compelling form with Dead On The Ground. She casts similarly muscular and angular musical and vocal shapes on the equally urgent Firedancer, the rhythmically staccato Machine Gun, the intense musical neurosis of Reckless and Feckless The Masterpiece and the ebb and flow sonics that model You Don’t Know. However, the more restrained likes of the pulsing Heron Days, The Riverbed and The Wide View will also evoke thoughts of Nick Drake and Bridget St. John.

roots-and-branches.com 2017