Album Review | Self Release | Review by Allan Wilkinson | Stars: 4/5
Following Scatter and Vancouver, the first two full-length albums by Gem Andrews, both incidentally awarded an approving thumbs up in the pages of Northern Sky, comes North, Gem’s third release to date. The LP sleeve shows a sunburst Gibson hanging precariously from Gem’s shoulder, the Liverpool-born singer songwriter standing ankle deep in sea water, a snow white lighthouse and neighbouring coastal cottages looming large behind. With no title or name printed on the front cover, we are presented with this ambiguous, almost melancholy image of someone in deep thought, which is reflected on “Two Lighthouses”, one of the two Julia Darling poems here arranged for song. The songs fall effortlessly between acoustic folk stylings and country-flavoured pop, often guided by an air of optimism. There’s some delightful interplay between pedal steel and mandolin in places, especially on “Two by Two”, courtesy of Chris Hillman and Bernard Wright, whilst the mostly self-penned songs remain uplifting in their simplicity. Gem’s hand-picked band drives along the lilting “Medicate”, which continues to offer a sprinkling of good cheer. There’s certainly a feel-good spirit at work here, even on the brassy gypsy fiddle arrangement of Lungs, despite its hard-hitting message. With an early indication of the Kate and Anna McGarrigle influence on “Sing Your Song”, Gem once again pays direct homage to the Canadian siblings with a fine reading of Anna McGarrigle’s “Come a Long Way” before the close of the album. Such songs demonstrate strength, yet there are also moments of vulnerability; “Bare” for example, with Gem’s slightly fragile vocal, crucial and most fitting for some of the more emotional moments. A lovely album.