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August/September 2016 – upcoming gigs – an English tour for Sage Francis & B. Dolan’s ‘Strange Speech, Famous Development” (Aug 29th-Sep 3rd); The Four Owls, Virus Syndicate, Mr Woodnote and Lil Rhys, Bellatrix, Divinity Roxx and Steve Lawson variously mix it up in London (17th, 29th).

26 Aug

Here’s some info on various upcoming shows from London to Leeds, with hip hop as the binding element in common. (Though what you’ll actually get stretches as far as ambient bass guitar soundscapes, spoken word and – on one occasion – some suspect sweary bird impressions.)

* * * * * * * *


 
Following a stint at the Edinburgh fringe, left-field rapper-poets Sage Francis and B. Dolan start to take their ‘Strange Speech, Famous Development’ spoken-word show on tour around selected venues in England. Roll the blurb:

“Sage Francis and B. Dolan are two internationally renowned hip-hop lyricists & spoken word poets – dynamos touted for their lyricism, activism, humour & performance art – with oddly parallel stories. Without prior knowledge of each other, both were born & raised in Rhode Island, where they developed an unlikely love of hip hop music. Although they grew up only one town apart from each other, they didn’t cross paths until 2002 via the Providence Poetry Slam. Each moved to New York City in search of the art-form, stumbled into the spoken word scene and developed a knack for razor sharp lyricism and stagecraft.


 
“Noted as one of the most articulate and broad-focussed of underground MCs, Sage came to widespread media attention in 2001 after his song ‘Makeshift Patriot’(which critiqued the behaviour and language of American media during, and immediately following, the September 11 attacks) became an internet hit. Though he’s released records on labels including Epitaph and Anti, he’s also seen his own Strange Famous Records grow from a late-’90s tape label releasing his own less obviously commercial material to a full-fledged fifteen artist independent.


 
“B. Dolan has made his own name via more than a decade’s worth of continually shapeshifting presentation, outsider perspective, and masterful execution. He enjoyed wide-spread attention for his activism in addressing homophobia in hip hop, and notably for his video single/campaign ‘Film The Police’ (which Russell Brand explored in a highly entertaining episode of ‘The Trews’.


 
“Although B. has been releasing records on Strange Famous since 2008 – when he made his career breakthough with the lo-fi, apocalyptic concept record ‘The Failure’ – he and Sage were working on music together as early as 2005. Several world tours later, their platonic life partnership was made official by forging a rap group called Epic Beard Men. ‘Strange Speech/Famous Development’ is the debut show that brings two legends of underground rap together on a very intimate stage. They’ll trade poems, songs, vivid stories and their now signature blend of offensive and insightful content. From personal to political and back again, the duo promise an inspiring performance.”


 

And here they are, drumming up business in Edinburgh…


 
Dates below:

* * * * * * * *

Mid-month, various spurs and outcrops of British hip hop make a showing in London at the Underworld for a night of rhymes, beats, and gimmicks-turned-triumphs.

Four Owls, 2016

Nightshift Promotions presents:
The Four Owls vs Virus Syndicate + Mr Woodnote & Lil Rhys + Bellatrix
The Underworld, 174 Camden High Street, Camden Town, London, NW1 0NE, England Saturday 17 September 2016, 5.30pm
information

Headlining London crew The Four Owls might look like trim, slightly self-conscious lucha libre wrestlers lurking behind bird masks, but come out bating and striking. More lairy, scruffy hawk than owl, they certainly make a racket. A supergroup of High Focus Records solo rappers Leaf Dog, Fliptrix, BVA & Verb T, they specialise in souped-up, combative, old-school-cum-gang-surreal battle flow, echoing tumbling Wu-Tang semi-sequiturs and arcane/profane Kool Keith gabble, with additional British street lip and humour.


 
For the Owls, a shot of bad taste just adds to the juiciness of a spit. If you’ve got the stomach for the occasional nasty switchback, check out the outrageous braggy stack-ups and lyrical misbehaviour on ‘Much Too Much’ from back in 2011 (though its dips into shockery and the tacky sex-horror-in-the-woodz video ain’t for all tastes, to put it mildly.) But if it gets you riled up about hip hop misogyny squashing or sidelining women, the presence of Bellatrix on the bill provides a fine corrective. A onetime Boxette and award-winning world-champion beatboxer, she’s since been revealing multiple further talents – fine, jazz-inspired double bass playing; off-the-wall singer-songwriter tactics which make her sound like a West Country Björk; a knack for burbling textural synth loops and choral layering. All done live and solo, interwoven in real time, without a net. And she’s still talking about it as if it’s baby steps. What’ll she have proved herself capable of once she feels she’s fully up to speed?



 

Elsewhere on the bill, Manchester provides the dubstep/grime collective Virus Syndicate, who deliver claustrophobic, compelling narratives across chilly isolationist beats. In turn, Bristol offers the irresistibly peppy partnership of Lil Rhys and Mr Woodnote (the former a freestyle rapper who chatters like an engaging dancehall singer; the latter a saxophonist, EWI player and beatboxer who creates a smart-stepping one-man-band via loops and timing).



 

* * * * * * * *

A few weeks later, just down the road from the Underworld, Divinity Roxx will be slamming it out at the Jazz Café.

Divinity Roxx + Steve Lawson
The Jazz Café, 5 Parkway, Camden Town, London, NW1 7PG, England
Tuesday 27th September 2016, 7.00pm
information
 


 

If I were to say that Divinity was Beyoncé’s bassist and musical director for two world tours, some might think that was the most interesting thing about her. I think that it isn’t. Being taken seriously as a player is good; for a female player, even more so. Being handed the MD-ship on one of the biggest shows in the business is even more of an honour – but there are plenty of yo-cat session players around who can handle that kind of thing, including plenty of female ones. Biz-wise, Divinity might be a bass player’s bass player, but there’s more to her than that, and it rolls out best in her solo work.


 

Playing flexible and diverse basslines, leading bands, delivering complex and confident live raps on top of her grooves, and possessing generous star quality of her own, Divinity can own a stage every bit as well as her erstwhile employer. With a repertoire already mining jazz, R&B, fusion, rock and hip hop, she can even deliver potential hits. In 2012’s ‘Get Here’, she swung old-school MC braggadocio around funk rock and a raw look-at-me stance; in last year’s ‘We Are’ she changed tack to wrap some flower-child hippy optism and civil-rights march vibes up with slick CCM-friendly gospel pop. Live, however, is where to catch her; and this month you can see her up-close before more people really start to cotton on to her. It’s only going to be a matter of time now.



 

For the Jazz Café show, Divinity will be joined by her musical buddy and fellow bass ace Steve Lawson. Steve’s otherworldly cinematic soundscapes, improvised live with nothing but a bass guitar, a MIDI controller and a bewildering array of pedals, have helped make him the most celebrated solo bassist in the UK. Since he’s also willing and eager to chat the legs of a fieldful of donkeys, it’ll be interesting to see what his daffy, teasing wit (and glammy dress sense) bring to the occasion. It’ll probably be like Ross Noble crashing a Neneh Cherry gig… assuming that Ross then went on to treat you to a set of tunes like Bootsy Collins, Pat Metheny and Boards of Canada all playing a convivial pass-the-parcel with Robert Fripp’s stage rig.



 

Steve has another couple of British gigs earlier in the month, which I’ll plug during the next jazz gig update in a few days’ time. If you can’t wait until then, click here to get the info direct from the source, and click here to read more about Steve from what’s been splashed across this blog over the years. Meanwhile, here he is busking in Frankfurt – in a jazzy mood, and without his usual wall of effects.


 

Tonight in Brooklyn – Michael Chinworth & The Rudder Group perform Trevor Wilson (with Will Stratton and Jonah Parzen-Johnson)

21 Aug

I’m sorry that this is another last-minute posting, but if you’re reading this in or around New York, there might be some tickets left for this concert.

Michael Chinworth, 2015

Michael Chinworth & The Rudder Band + Will Stratton + Jonah Parzen-Johnson (Union Hall, 702 Union Street, Brooklyn, New York, NY, USA, Friday August 21st 2015, 7.30pm) – $10.00

Part of the generation from the liberal arts Bennington College which also fostered Trevor Wilson (Anawan, Vocal Ensemble), Tavo Carbone (Horse’s Mouth) and J.J. Beck, Michael Chinworth maintains that group’s indifference to musical boundaries, keeping up a New York tradition of playing (like latterday Arthur Russells) across genres. Exploring his Bandcamp page throws up assorted experiments in cut’n’paste electro-acoustic collages and vocalese plus assorted various college-classical chamber pieces in various contemporary Romantic, minimalist or post-Ligeti forms. On this occasion, he’s following his well-established alternative pop side, performing his own lustrously tuneful take on a Trevor Wilson song cycle – 2013’s ‘Rudder Songs’ – which he’s due to release on album the following day.

‘Rudder Songs’ is in keeping with much of Trevor’s work – simultaneously vague and pointed, obscure and lovely, and often subtly provocative. While never being so obvious as to make a straightforward point, it suggests a unsettled fluidity of sexual identity and choices of vision; providing off-kilter, stream-of-consciousness hymns to unorthodox friendships and the possibilities of city life that nonetheless wilfully and regularly flees to open countryside or the solitary road life. Familiar elements from folk, torch song, soul jazz and psychedelia float alongside each other, recombining at odd intoxicated angles; or explode from straightforward beginnings into thought patterns too complicated for a simple frame to contain.

If you want to compare the Chinworth versions to the Wilson originals (sung and recorded solo at Meredith Monk’s piano, no less) you can find the latter above. Michael’s smooth, Wurlitzer-tickled blue-eyed soul approach might initially seem miles away from Trevor’s wayward and uninhibited performances and whisper-to-caterwaul vocalising (in some respects, it’s like Frank Ocean covering Kevin Coyne or John Cale at their most frothing). Still, if you’re familiar with Michael’s work on Trevor’s songs elsewhere, both the link and the sympathy are clearly intact; and it’s clear that their work together in Anawan (in which both Michael’s voice and Wurlitzer play a key role) paves a way towards Michael’s slant on the Rudder material. Check out his performance in the video for Anawan’s ‘Breaded Me’, below, and then compare it to his versions of a pair of Rudder Songs underneath (one exploring an unusual fissile threesome, the other obliquely fishing in a friend’s thoughts).

In addition to Michael the Rudder Band lineup includes guitar visionary Ben Seretan and fellow Benningtonians J.J. Beck and Matt Scott, plus Trevor Wilson himself on additional keyboards. Re the collaboration, Trevor comments “In many more ways than one, this is a repeat of a much-admired album from 1970, ‘Nilsson Sings Newman’. Harry Nilsson, inspired by the odd, rude composition style of Randy Newman, wanted to take the songs and re-imagine them with his signature vocal layering and general studio beautifying. These two songwriters, equal but so different in their contribution to musical history, united to create this album together without ego, without agenda. (Maybe. I hope.) As I will do (at the concert), Newman plays and sings on Nilsson’s adaptation of his own songs… with another bandleader.

“I think everyone should have the opportunity to do this with their form of expression. Not to get too 3rd-grade-after-school-assignment-y, but seriously, try it out. Ask one of your contemporaries, friends, colleagues if you can ‘cover’ their thing, and have them sit in the passenger seat somewhere during the process. Or the other way around. You’ll both learn a thousand things. Michael has a rare gift of seeing music on its own terms- terms that don’t exist within human realities- and he has certainly shown me things about my compositions that has changed my whole process. The band is sounding great, and I am so happy to be a part of it.”

There are two support acts. Folk songwriter Will Stratton will be playing songs drawn from his five full-length albums; while Jonah Parzen-Johnson (frequently seen as part of New York afrobeat ensemble Zongo Junction) will be bringing his lo-fi music for solo circular-breathing saxophone and analogue synthesizer, described as follows – “Imagine the raw energy of an Appalachian Folk choir, tempered by a lofi, minimal aesthetic inspired by the music of Bill Callahan… (Jonah) has meticulously constructed a world of warm memories remembered in a cold present, as he melds the evocative nature of folk music with the chilling power of experimentalism.” Judge for yourselves at the gig, or via the previews below.


Up-to-date information and tickets for the gig are available here – and if you can’t make it, you can view in on video stream here.

REVIEW – Lee Fletcher: ‘The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes’ remix mini-album, 2013 (“unstitched, re-embroidered, re-folded”)

17 Mar
Lee Fletcher: 'The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes'

Lee Fletcher: ‘The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes’

‘Faith In Worthless Things’ was one of 2012’s surprise pleasures. Lee Fletcher’s debut album was the late-blossoming distillation of years of work as engineer and confidant to assorted art-rock musicians, and of even more years absorbing influences and refining them in a budding songwriter’s heart.

What emerged was a sleek, assured and finely-honed planned-patchwork of an album. It pulled in sounds from touch guitars, Uillean pipes, crunchy rhythm loops, ukeleles, powdered trumpets and silky synthesizers; it mused on betrayals, work, bewitchment and people in general; and it drew on a wide but surprising coherent blend of string-quartet chamber pop, soul and trip hop, 1970s Scott Walker, King Crimson-flavoured progressive rock, electronica and Anglo-folk.

While Lee’s firm and expansive vision gave the album both shape and finish, it was also very much a group effort, achieved hand in hand with his singer wife Lisa plus the chameleonic touch guitarist/soundscaper Markus Reuter and a small battalion of interested musicians from around the world. This short album of follow-up remixes keeps that spirit, with a couple of returning collaborators and new reinventors let loose on the tracks.

Only two songs from ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ make it to this particular phase. There’s the title track – originally a humble state-of-the-world address sung by Lisa but dispatched by Lee, people-watching at the railway station in his Devon hometown, and sampling a picture of humanity from its wandering fragments on an ordinary morning. There’s also The Inner Voice, in which Lisa soars on a rich carpet of soul-inspired smoothness; delicately and beadily picking apart matters of confidence and collaboration, while unhitching – scuffed, but quietly determined – from a dragging entanglement. The latter was the album’s obvious single, so it’s interesting to see three different remixers work three different shades of pop out of it.

Of these, Brazilian proggers-turned-clubbers Worldengine offer perhaps the most satisfying reinvention – a slink-and-roll electronica take full of whispering creep, voice fuzz and closed-eye pulse beats. The smooth soul of the original is pared back in favour of odd, gently challenging chording and textures: as if Lisa’s vocal line has been gently unwound from its original branch and wrapped carefully around a new one. Imagine what might happen if David Torn had as much pop clout as Madonna does, and you’ll have some idea of where Worldengine take this.

Two other remixers take The Inner Voice further out, but perhaps with less originality. The mix from German DJ Ingo Vogelmann battles and switches restlessly between its whispering electronic-ambient chamber intro, heavily synthesized cyberpop and a naked acoustic strum. The onetime 4hero cohort Branwen Somatik offers a similarly morphing dance switchback – initially a slightly dubby hip-hop take with an eerie twist, then a transformation to minimally-sheathed soul-pop, finally melting away in a dubby whisper of liquefying beats.

There are no fewer than six versions of Faith In Worthless Things, including a return for Ingo Vogelmann who offers a mix replete with Orb/Jean Michel Jarre-flavoured electronica (strong on the breezy minimalism, and dappled with bits of dub and techno). Adrian Benavides has honed himself an industrial pop version full of collapsing sheet metal and drill bits. Fabio Trentini provides an ambient pop take with an art-pop tweak – part Japan (if the ‘Gentlemen Take Polaroids’ era took precedence) and part Crafty Guitarist. Lee’s words and Lisa’s sweet-but-stately vocals sit, unfazed, in these new cradles.

Having said that, this particular song is less suited to being strapped into dance, and other approaches are preferable. Under his Hollowcreature alias, David Picking seems to realise this; he keeps and highlights the train-swish from the intro, brings Lee’s own warm and pleasant guide vocals to the forefront for half of the time, and comes up with a subtly dubby version of the song’s English pastoral feel. The latter quality is something which Tim Motzer appears to have picked up on too, as he moves Faith In Worthless Things into a more British progressive rock area. This he does via a number of changes – jazz vibraphone, the ghost of a hard-rock riff and eventually a build up into a Pink Floyd blaze replete with Gilmourian guitar. It seems obvious, but there’s some clever sleight-of-hand here: Lisa is metamorphosed cunningly by the new arrangement into a leathered-up rock goddess, all without a change to her vocal part.

Tobias Reber, on the other hand, manages to be both daring and successful in his own mix, taking an unexpected creative risk and pulling it off. He contributes the best of the remixes on offer, as well as the most original. His reconstructive take on the songs sees it unstitched and re-embroidered, re-folded. The song is re-imagined over an uneasy sea-roll of structure. New chording, constructed from the components of the original piece, produces a striking new perspective; a different place from which Lee, through Lisa, can watch the world and see its unsettling currents ripple past and under him.

Each remix, though, gently unbuttons ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ again and reminds us of that collaborative feeling which suffused it. The rolling and friction between Lee’s ideas and where his accomplished collaborators took them – a journey in motion.

Lee Fletcher: ‘The Cracks Within: FiWT Remixes’
Unsung Records (no catalogue number or barcode)
Download-only mini-album
Released: 5th February 2013

Get it from:
Bandcamp

Lee Fletcher online:
Homepage Facebook TwitterBandcamp

REVIEW – Lee Fletcher: ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ album, 2012 (“rich and delicate”)

28 Aug
Lee Fletcher: 'Faith In Worthless Things'

Lee Fletcher: ‘Faith In Worthless Things’

And he came out from behind the console, and he spread out his dreams.

If you know Lee Fletcher already, it’s probably only in passing: maybe for the handful of mannered electro-pop tracks he and his wife Lisa have put out over the past decade as [halo]. More likely, you’ll know him for his extensive work as producer/engineer with centrozoon, Markus Reuter and with assorted King Crimson spin-offs including Tuner and Stick Men: well-established as a producer and engineer out at the more technical end of art-rock, you’d expect his own current music to be stark, or detached, or both.

It’s not just the question of his choice of colleague: it’s more that people in his position are generally there to get a job done, massaging and harassing slack musicians or their work into proper performance. If they’re of the more creative ilk, they might get to tweak their charges’ output into more original shapes. If they get around to putting out albums, these are likely to be back-to-basics vanity projects or all-star galleries of guest singers and studio flair – bought by fans for the tricks and the rarities, but then left to gather dust. Generally speaking, producers’ own records aren’t supposed to be romantic, aren’t supposed to be involved. Most especially, they’re not supposed to be revealing.

Lee Fletcher clearly has other ideas, and he won’t be doing quite what you expect of him.

Starting with the surface and working in… ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ certainly has the striking richness of sound you’d expect from someone of Lee’s experience. Live strings, wind instruments and solo cameos merge seamlessly with his own intricate programming and panoramic instrumentation in a fine blend of console wizardry and warm acoustic work. Rich and delicate arrangements encompass stirring contributions by guest players from right across the musical spectrum. Among others making their marks, the album boasts broad strokes and fine detail from art-rock guitarists Tim Motzer and Robert Fripp, jazz drift (from trumpeter Luca Calabrese, double bass player Oliver Klemp and drummer Matthias Macht), and sky-curve pedal steel playing from BJ Cole. Equally memorable moments come when Uillean pipes (courtesy of Baka Beyond’s Alan Burton) and, to particular moving effect, Jacqueline Kershaw’s French horn are woven subtly into the mix, set against sonic glitch and pillowy atmospherics.

If any of this orchestrated, cross-disciplinary lushness suggests other precedents to you, you’re right. Anyone familiar with David Sylvian’s electro-acoustic songscapes in the 1980s (or who subsequently took on the likes of Jane Siberry, Caroline Lavelle or no-man, whose violinist Steve Bingham plays a prominent role here) will recognise the wellsprings and traditions from which ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ draws. Miracles On Trees (a nimble quiltwork canon of touch-guitar, pipes and vocal harmonies suggesting Kate Bush fronting King Crimson) brings in additional strands of clean New Age-y folktronica, while more neurotic, Crimsonic arpeggios are stitched through A Life On Loan. Elsewhere, you’ll find fleeting, delicately organised touches from industrial electronica and dancehall reggae (as if bled in from a wobbling radio dial) and ingredients from Lee’s recent forays into torch song (via David Lynch’s protégée Christa Bell).  There’s certainly a strong debt to Scott Walker’s luxuriant orchestral pop work, made explicit via an enthusiastically dreamy cover of Long About Now.

However, much of the sonic recipe is Lee’s own spin on things – a developing and broadening sonic signature which began to unveil itself earlier in the year on GRICE’s Fletcher-produced  ‘Propeller’ (which featured many of the same players and a similar production ethos). ‘Faith In Worthless Things’ is also shaped by two featured players in particular – historically, the other two beats of Lee’s musical heart. On touch guitar, Markus Reuter adds a broad catalogue of supporting instrumental parts: textured or clean, rhythmic or melodic, banked-up or solo. While integral to the album’s fabric, his playing  also fades skilfully out of the foreground – although he’s constantly present, it’s as if he’s seen only in brief flashes, running through the trees, keeping pace with the sound. Meanwhile, Lisa Fletcher takes centre-stage (as she did with [halo]) to provide almost all of the album’s vocals as well as acting as Lee’s muse and interpreter. She sings even the most painstaking lyric with the cool, classical, adult sensuality of a pop diva who might at any moment slide off her long black concert dress and walk, naked and magnificent, out into the sea.

In spite of all of this sterling support, if you drill down through the music (past all of the tasteful production stylings, the guest players and the ornamentation) you’ll find a songwriter’s album underneath. While his physical voice is present only as a few murmured harmonies-cum-guide vocals dropped across a handful of tracks, Lee Fletcher’s songwriting voice entirely dominates the album. It even has its own particular hallmarks – a sophisticated way with compositional patterns which takes as much from chanson and European music as it does from Anglo-American pop; plus a yen for long, looping melodic journeys across an extended succession of chords. Lyrically he follows the earnest, philosophical musings of prog song-poets such as Peter Hammill; immersing himself in concepts or thoughts and writing his way through them with shades of classic verse, occasionally knocking frictional sparks against the constraints of the surrounding pop music.

There’s an interesting pull-and-push between this ever-so-slightly awkward lyrical grain and Lisa’s glossy-smooth vocals, just enough of a catch and grind to put a polish on the one and a depth on the other. When both Fletchers team up as writers on The Inner Voice, there’s an extra lift, bringing in the kind of hi-concept soul soar you’d have expected from Minnie Riperton or Commodores, or indeed from Janelle Monáe (if the latter’s leant over from a soul background to look into art-pop, the Fletchers seem to be leaning the other way.) The cruising, creamy melody hides some sharp barbs : the song’s partly an elegant kiss-off to a past lover or collaborator, partly a “won’t-get-fooled-again” statement of intent and new faith and intent. “You did me a great favour, in a melancholic way,” sings Lisa, in cool and assured tones. “The lesson learned and actioned for today / is to listen to the inner voice and serve that impulse well./ Have courage in conviction, break the shell.” Gracious in retreat, but along the way a polite yet lethal line of stilettos are being inserted into a turned and oblivious back (like some kind of vengeful acupuncture).

While Lee’s other lyrical concerns occasionally stretch to brooding worksong (“marching up the hill all day, fetching pails of water for the crown / Until the playtime whistle sounds, and blows your hallowed dreams away”) and wide-eyed nature worship (“the seasons are aligning/ Shedding Mother Nature’s silver skin /bringing balance to the timing”) he’s at his best when he’s drifting into the hazy realm of the personal. Part of this touches on the mutability and contradictions of love – its ability, in any given moment, to contain frailty and fears alongside strength, devotion and enrapturement. On The Number, he and collaborator SiRenée set up a picture of the start of intimacy as a phone call into the unknown: “Hello, you’ve reached the number of my secret voice / And though I asked you not to call / Your instinct made the choice… / I knew you’d call, I knew you’d love me… Stranger on the line, I’ve known you always.” Dusted by Luca Calabrese’s  sprays of muted Jon Hassell-ish trumpet, SiRenée sings the words in a misty bank of close and teasing harmonies – an enigmatic telephone nymph, she spins a spell of reflected longing as if at any moment she could either become flesh or simply vanish.

At the other end of the scale, where love is sealed and secure (with spouse, friends, family or perhaps all together), there is Life’s A Long Time Short; a Markus Reuter co-write in which an encroaching chill of the knowledge of ageing and death begins to gnaw at that security. “Our time is fleeting – / a love so true is truly painful. / A hurt that’s so divine – / at once the symptom and remedy.” Against a mournful ominous French horn line and a decaying fall of twinkling, dying Reuter touch-guitar chords, the song gradually passes from innocence (“there is no end, all time descends – / the trick is not to care”) to a warning (“there is an end. / Make all amends”)while Lisa sings with a subtle and breathless sense of disquiet, like a flickering ghost. All along, Lee watches with a poignantly shifting mixture of love, devotion and horror. Caught up within the current of time, all he can do is celebrate and confirm the life and value he shares in the now, while watching the inevitable washing-away and mourning coming closer and closer: “And as you grow, /  I watch in rhapsody / the miracle you are…/Inside I’m screaming.” 

On other occasions, Lee looks further outside, though it’s not always a comfort. Peering at the rapacious dazzle of television and pop media on Is It Me (Or Is It You?) he gets burned for his pains, then frets and growls out a proggy sermon about the callousness of the wider world: “Such a passion for freedom and brutality… / we pillage the living, ever seeking, kiss and telling morality / besieging all senses with apathy.” It’s the album’s title track that provides him with the still point which he needs. Out at the railway station café from dawn till dusk, notepad in hand, he’s watching the universe go about its business. Rails lead away to both possibility and obscurity; travellers move from place to place, passing through crowds while wrapping themselves in solitude; and Lee is “dreaming of the perfect future /  tall on tales, and short on truth.”

Here, out in the flow, he plays observer to small, everyday aggravations and hints at family disappointments spawning both small aches and broken-up little personal worlds: “children crying, mothers braying / Fathers absent once again.” Here, too, he finds his sympathy renewed, his understanding broadened: “all at one with situation – / Circumstance breeds condemnation / of our fellow man.” Encompassed by the lives and voyages of others,  surrounded by the signs and signifiers of both possibility and stagnation, he comes to a quiet acceptance of human fallibility and connection – “we’re bound by time, though here alone – / many rivers run as one. / Faith to heal the cracks within, / praying for life’s worthless things.” A small and modest epiphany, it’s the heart of the album and the song that binds everything together – including Lee’s divided impulses as skilled producer, exploring songwriter and man with a heart. Affection and anger, dislocation and commonality, families and strangers, nature and the grind, all linked under a lovingly gilded arch of strings, soft voices and soundscapes.

Lee Fletcher: ‘Faith In Worthless Things’
Unsung Records, UR019CD (4260139121021)
CD/download album
Released: 1st October 2012

Buy it from:
Bandcamp

Lee Fletcher online:
Homepage Facebook TwitterBandcamp

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