With its Scottish meaning of uncertainty about things a contrast to the decisiveness ears and passions find for its imagination bred proposal, Swithering is quite simply an album glorious in every essence. The new full-length from Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire, it is a kaleidoscope of flavours and inspirations hinting at some of Scotland’s most potent bands and more besides yet any influence feels a coincidence rather than a drawn spark for a release eclectic, unique, and increasingly irresistible.
Embracing the songwriting craft and class of vocalist/guitarist/pianist Roddy Hart, the Glasgow hailing septet band is completed by bassist Scott Clark, guitarists John Martin and Gordon Turner, drummer Scott Mackay, pianist/organist Geoff Martyn, and keyboardist Andy Lucas, with pretty much all also offering vocals and harmonies to the album as captivating as the melodies and lyrical adventures helping shape it.
With their critically acclaimed 2013 released self-titled debut album nominated for the Scottish Album of the Year and sparking US TV host Craig Ferguson to invite the band to perform on The Late Late Show on CBS that same year, that leading to a 5-night residency playing to a combined audience of over 12 million viewers, Hart and co had already plenty to live up to with their next move. A Scottish Variety Award for International Breakthrough Artist of The Year and a nomination for Best Band at the Spirit of Scotland Awards were followed by the band performing at the opening party for the Commonwealth Games and a celebrated show with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra.
Their reputation as a mighty live proposition was quickly established alongside their successes and relentlessly cemented by each further show and their yearly self-curated Roaming Roots Revue for Celtic Connections. For most of 2015, the band predominately concentrated on writing and recording songs now making up Swithering, a release co-produced by Paul Savage (Mogwai, Emma Pollock, Admiral Fallow) about whom Hart says, “He was key to adding a sense of perspective – and calm – to it all, allowing the madness of this new working relationship forming between us to unfold in the most creative way possible.”
It is a creativity which looms impressively upon ears and thoughts from the opening strains of first track Tiny Miracles and persistently blossoms to greater heights across song and its subsequent companions. The opener flirts with the senses instantly, its initial guitar melody soon holding hands with Hart’s alluring tones and the rising caress of atmospheric keys. Quickly the track is strolling along with the darker shadows of bass riding the anthemic lure of drums as melodies and harmonies seduce from all angles. It’s controlled but enthused liveliness is as insatiable as the hunger of ears to devour it, an essence of Lightning Seeds coming to mind as the song grabs hips and imagination with consummate ease.
The diversity of Swithering is quickly established as the colder haunting charms of Berlin closes in on the senses. As Hart expresses his thoughts, the song reveals the city is much more than just a destination vocally and emotionally for the songwriter’s heart. There is a persistent eighties flavouring across the album, here the band creating a provocative flight through a Thomas Dolby meets James Cook tempting with Thompson Twins like revelry to its rhythmic enticing. The song is entrancing and again infected with a catchiness which takes a growingly incisive hold, a quality just as open and commanding as that shared by the Talking Heads spiced Low Light, a song also prompting comparisons to Bill Nelson as it dances provocatively in ears.
Again though, as those around it, it emerges as something distinct and individual to Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire, a trait only backed by the melancholic beauty and drama of No Monsters and recent single Violet. With keys and piano alone conjuring a palette for the imagination to conjure with, backed by the sweltering sighs of guitar and the vocal hug, the first of the pair gently but firmly bewitches before its successor with its own mellow countenance entices with an increasingly infectious swing.
Next up Dreamt You Were Mine is another song with a deceptive virulence which grows and breeds a welcome trespass loaded with an abandon which only consumes and inspires the listener while straight after Faint Echo of Loneliness shows Josef K invention in its indie pop/post punk like character. Both tracks broaden the creative landscape of the album while binding ears and appetite closer to its adventurous intent, though they are soon eclipsed by the majestic roar of In the Arms of California, surely a highly tempting single in the waiting with the suggestive flair of Pete Wylie and raw pop allurement of Orange Juice in its melodic serenade and impassioned blaze.
Through the haunted climate and reflective release of I Thought I Could Change Your Mind, a song slipping under the skin with every passing imaginative minute and in turn the climactic Strange Addictions, the album pours on the instinctive variety and invention within its creators. The latter is a tempest of emotion and sound as forcibly contagious as it is rousingly evocative and sublimely tempered yet complimented by the more composed but just as catchy canter of Sliding. Like so many of the tracks within Swithering, it almost instantly has highly persuasive claws into the listener, gripping tighter as it brews even bolder catchiness in its imposing intent.
Concluded by the dark, almost melodramatic carnival folk flavoured We’re the Immortals, a song musically and lyrically as intimate as it is majestically radiant and suggestive, Swithering is an adventure and event for body and spirit; a success epitomised by that final treat of a track. Roddy Hart & The Lonesome Fire are no strangers to attention and acclaim but nothing to what Swithering will surely spark.
Swithering is out now across most stores and on all formats, including limited edition 180g vinyl, through Middle of Nowhere Recordings.
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Pete RingMaster 13/12/2016
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