Every sprawling city, each urban street it holds and the shadows that drape their households and corners provide a kaleidoscope of tales and drama and it is here that the new album from Harry Stafford sets its sights. Gothic Urban Blues is a collage of just some of the stories and secrets you may find within that sprawl, dark gothic tales smoked in equally tenebrific sounds and simply one gorgeous incitement for ears and imagination.
Stafford is no stranger to inspiring a hungry appetite for his sounds as frontman/guitarist founder of post-punk rockers Inca Babies but his solo venture is a whole new adventure drenched in intrigue and intimation. The Manchester hailing artist seeds his personal creativity in a love of blues piano and barroom ballads and as his 2017 debut album, Guitar Shaped Hammers (and the title of the band his has brought together around him), revealed it has quickly shaped its own identity fully proven by the even more irresistible Gothic Urban Blues. The new album feeds the interest we all share on what happens behind closed doors and in the lives of strangers, supping on possibilities within to breed its own suppositions. Every track within the album draws ears and thoughts into a myriad of intimately caliginous worlds whilst carrying a certain contagion, an instinctive swing swiftly proving as addictive as the narratives it harbours.
With the Guitar Shaped Hammers made up of Rob Haynes (The Membranes, Inca Babies), trumpeter Kevin Davy (Lamb, Cymande), guitarist/bassist Nick Brown (The Membranes) and Vincent O’Brien on Weisseborn slide guitar alongside, Stafford immediately uncages that almost primal infectiousness talked of with album opener, She Just Blew Me Away. Its initial caress of guitar is enough to provoke attention, an intrigue quickly escalated by Stafford’s fingers on piano keys and the swarthy shimmer of guitar beside him. In no time his distinctive voice is strolling through the imagination too, his dirt laced tones equipped with the catchiness equally infesting the surrounding sounds and accentuated by the slow but lively crawl of rhythms. As throughout the release, there is a Nick Cave meets Tom Wait meets The Filthy Tongues scent teasing away and inevitably just due to his unique voice a touch of the Inca Babies but in one track alone there is no disguising the individuality of the quickly potent incitement.
Cruel Set of Shades follows and just as eagerly infests ears and the psyche with its slow prowl of a saunter, one instantly wrapped in the inimitably spun strands of Brown’s guitar as the suggestive flames and lure of Davy’s horns, as in its predecessor, just escalates the evolving picture and emotions it bears. Haunting and rousing, the track hungrily wormed under the skin in no time, is rhythmic rove and sonic scintillation heightening the creative manna before the album’s title track delves deeper into the cinematic prowess and troubadour rapport that lines Stafford’s writing. It is another song which instinctively set feet, hips, and vocal chords to work, its jazz cured breath an almost feral protagonist to thoughts alongside Stafford’s ever descriptive and darkly poetic lyrics.
Across the piano driven urban waltz of Painted Ocean and the earnest balladry of Infinite Dust, the album only tightened its grip, the first as much an evocation to thoughts as to an eagerly swaying body whilst the second melancholically wraps its arms around the listener with sorrow and crepuscular beauty. The sonic tempestuousness lining its walls, Brown again creating a rare incitement which almost defies the sure craft behind it, provides a persistent taunting only adding to a compelling presence soon eclipsed slightly by new single Black Rain. It too is a heady seduction of a ballad with Stafford’s keys accentuating the pull of his words amidst another reserved yet illustratively potent tapestry of guitar and melody.
It has proven hard to choose a favourite moment within the album, many contenders but the irresistible stroll of Sideways Shuffle always makes a potent case, the track a jazz and blues nurtured amble lit by gothic shadows around lamplight bearing street corners with a great Bauhaus like hue to its emotive gaslight. The track is quite superb though straightaway matched in temptation by the magnetic and resonating observation of Man In a Bar, another slice of blues bearing suggestion as infectious as it is evocative.
The final pair of Disappearing and Into The Storm bring the release to as striking and enthralling a proposition as it unveiled itself as; the first of the two a fuzz luring, shadows and melody embroiling drift into the darkest corners of life and a despondency of it with its successor a physically swaying, temptation spraying canter which was so easy to get involved and wrapped up in.
In a world now in isolation and hours with little to do on our hands the mind might be wondering what is indeed going on behind those curtains in the streets outside of the glass. Harry Stafford has a host of suggestions within Gothic Urban Blues, one of the best distractions and albums you are likely to come across this year.
Gothic Urban Blues is out now via Black Lagoon Records; available @ https://harrystafford.bandcamp.com/album/gothic-urban-blues
Pete RingMaster 23/04/2020
Copyright RingMasterReview: MyFreeCopyright
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