(Perdido Records. CD Review by Sebastian Scotney)There sometimes seems no limit to the number of fine and fully-formed artists who – for different reasons, but very often for reasons of the heart – decide to uproot and transplant themselves to the South-East of England. We now have another authentic, compelling, inviting voice, that of Charlie Wood, a singer-songwriter steeped in the traditions and musical language of his native Memphis.
New Souvenirs is Wood’s eighth album, but his first to be recorded in the UK. Having settled here there is perspective, even distance. But he first draws you in with the gentle and persuasive timbre of his voice, and the quality of his lyrics.Yes, Some of the songs are uncomfortably negative. Angel of Despair deals with unremitting bitterness at the end of a relationship – love has completely curdled into loathing.”I’d hate to have to love you”, but what Wood is normally dealing with is the ambiguity, the bittersweetness, the incompleteness of relationships, both real and remembered, with expectations either surpassed or not met. And there are endless keenly-felt metaphors. Try: “Let the fear in my pocket slip out through the holes.” And hats off to anyone who finds a way to rhyme salt, fault and Gestalt.
There are observations of people and of nature: songs are populated with over-competitive students or various ‘schmucks, against a backdrop of falling petals, ‘voluptuous gardenias’, a distant remembered house,
It is, however, not just the words and the moods that draw the listener back; the music is all at a tip-top level. Bassist Dudley Phillips has an astonishing way of anchoring every groove, especially the lopsided time signature of Tubes, but he also finesses the slow pulse of Don’t Think, and the soupy harmonic richness of Until the Fall. Wood’s own organ and piano playing have vitality, style and a smile, and there is eloquent work on electric and Spanish guitar in the soloing from Chris Allard. Nic France’s drums are always there in the texture and get properly let loose at end of Music is My Monkey. Ben Castle‘s fleet and characterful work on tenor saxophone, and Mark Nightingale‘s sonorous trombone are well caught.
This album also marks a first venture into record production by Jacqui Dankworth. The album is a stayer, which only reveals its secrets (and even then, rightly, keeps quite a lot for itself) after repeated listenings.