Album Review | Reveal Records | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5
Singer, Songwriter, Musician, Side man, mover and shaker, Boo Hewerdine is a hard person to pin down. As a songwriter, writing for himself and Eddi Reader, he has penned some of the finest ballads you have ever heard. He was a member of an embarrassingly good 80s band, The Bible, whose sophisticated Rock Pop sat somewhere between The Blue Nile, and a janglier more Americana Danny Wilson. He is a guitarist recording and touring with the aforementioned Eddi Reader as well as working with numerous up and coming musicians alongside Chris Pepper at Saltwell Studios. Skimming through a lot of new music the involvement of Boo is an assurance of quality. Since 1992 both solo and in duos with Darren Smith and Brooks Williams he has produced a body of intelligent, measured and sophisticated music, of which Before is the latest example. The dense layered guitar pop of 2017’s Swimming In Mercury with its electronica, Beach Boys like harmonies has shifted to something more immediate and stripped back, but still with the same sense of the unexpected.
“Last Rays Of Sun” is built around layers of hit percussion and keyboards. The instrument list for the album reads like a cross between the inside of an early Mike Oldfield Gatefold and a Moondog album. The sound is minimalism or lofi electronica replicating Boo’s strummed guitar, but the effect is warm and hypnotic behind Hewerdine’s intimate vocal. Simply as instrumentals they would be fascinatingly fresh and as songs the effect is captivating. “Imagined” opens with Gustaf Ljunggren’s treated guitar playing an interlude that leads into “Imaginary Friends” a song of childhood. Boo’s vocal is intimate and measured, the accompaniment is bubbling and lively, sonically interesting textures without being dominant. “Silhouette” is a reflective song with its breathy ECM jazz accompaniment informed by the preceeding “Shiruetto”. As an exercise in how much to strip away to reveal the song it is beautiful, linking to the paired back imagery of the song. Boo’s vocal works both unaccompanied and against the wind instrument and slight electronica. “Before” and “Before before” are wonderful fragments of blown sound. “Before” is a hymn like with piano accompaniment and wafts of the most perfect clarinet and saxophone on this exquisite but slightly surreal love song. Boo and Gustav have veered off into exciting ambient singer songwriter. “Arriving” is a sublime of pedal steel guitar, slightly phased like an AM radio broadcast. Gustav’s Pedal Steel, as ambient as the best of BJ Cole carries on through “Reno”, melancholic ambient jazz Americana played on a Bakerlite valve radio. “Starlight” as a smooth classic ballad is a song I know well from Eddi Reader’s 2018 Cavalier album, a lush 1950’s crooner ballad on a cushion of lush backing vocals. Boo strips his song back to another perfect vocal balanced over electronics and a kalimba, sounding like the embodiment of starlight itself, celestial and as translucent as light itself. Boo finds the lullaby in the ballad. “Neverland” is a song of contrasts, delicate plucked notes, disquieting electronics straight off the Get Carter soundtrack and lush ELO chorus vocals. The lyrics are about escape and the song is genuinely surreal. “Wild Honey” is another ambient stripped back masterpiece, Boo’s melancholic lyrics, set against gently wafting brass notes and piano notes. “Old Song” is reassuring nostalgia with a sting, the backing suggests a woozy dream sequence, a disjointed flickering home movie that blurs into the next instrumental interlude. “I Wish I Had Wings” is another uplifting song of hope, Boo’s voice set against the strings he is singing about and an ethereal fairground organ.
This is a brave album that looks and leaps at the same time as Shark like Boo Hewerdine must keep moving forwards or drown, but moving in an steadily evolving way not in a self conscious reinvention. His strong voice stands proud and grounds all of the songs in Booness and makes it instantly recognisable. Changing and staying the same, not everyone can that and even fewer do it this well.
Choice Track: “I Wish I Had Wings” (NSV 489)