On the waiting list
It’s been a long six years since the release of American Refrigerator, but the South London singer-songwriter’s clearly not be sitting on his thumbs in the interim. Signed to a new label, he’s shrugged off past Dylan comparisons to produce an album of Americana that, variously rocky and balladeering, narrows the reference points to Don McLean (especially on the gospel-blues piano ballad You Got A Man Like Me Loving You) and John Prine. Indeed, the fresh out of prison When Tomorrow Comes (which, like several numbers, features the fabulous Siobhan Parr on harmonies), could have come from one of Prine’s own early classics.
With songs that variously deal with how love can bring light to a dead end life (the sad waltzing, organ and string quartet coloured Dreams About Beautiful Girls) and battles with the booze (the rootsy mandolin flecked Honey I’m Home and Rose In A Bottle, both which evoke thoughts of Ronnie Lane’s Slim Chance), a sense of striving to be a better man runs through the album.
If I’m being honest, I’m less taken with its uptempo numbers, the rocking country Coming Apart At The Seams and the chugging hobo blues Road And Rails with its slide and steel. But when he switches to plaintive acoustic melancholy for something like In The Cold Light Of Morning, which features Matt Percival on dobro while skilled guitarist Gunnar Frick switches to accordion, or the lovely, string quartet and guitar title track with its melodic evocations of an old Confederate hymn, then I’m weak at the knees.
There’s one non-original here, and while Townes Van Zandt‘s If I Needed You has been covered umpteen times, Sutherland’s arrangement with its different vocal and melody phrasings and the colours added by Frick’s lonesome lap and pedal, still manages to bring something new.
Born in London in the nine years since he started struggling his way through the few chords he knew around the London pub circuit, Sutherland’s learned to pick guitar like a wizard, paid his dues as support act to Glenn Tilbrook and Bert Jansch (who produced his debut), toured the US and recorded two albums.
This is his third, delivered in a slightly nasal honeyed sandpaper voice that variously bears traces of Dylan (on the opening title track, a marvellous song about former cop confined to a wheelchair after a shooting) Roger McGuinn, John Prine, and, for the real 70s obscurists among you out there, Jimmy Stevens (and if anyone knows what happened to him I’d love to hear). With the banjo driving bluegrass stomper Candyman (that’ll be drugs then), waltz time swayer Dead In Her Head, folk-blues shuffle Sugar Babe and lost love song Where Are You Now? it’s amply evident that he’s steeped in a rootsy mixture of American country-folk and Celtic, but as Happier Blue and the frankly quite brilliant I Don’t Play With The Rolling Stones And She Don’t Sing The Blues (a title Shel Silverstein would have killed to have written) reveal, he’s also more than capable of kicking up the folk-rock dust too.
The album’s laced with a reflective melancholy – even on Going Down To Georgia‘s tale of a guy (a fugitive?) who’s gota gun to a hostage’s head – that finds perfect expression in the closing From The Vauxhall Tavern…to the Deptford Broadway with its lines ‘where we stood now stand houses when they levelled all the land,” its cascading mandolin accompaniment and a feel that’s best described as Martin Stephenson if he were Don McLean.
It’s barely been off my player since it arrived, its unassuming acoustic simplicity, imaginative arrangements and Sutherland’s warm vocals and beguiling melodies making him the most welcome surprise discovery of the year so far. And, just for the ‘where are they now?’ Brigade, please note the credits list Annabel Lamb on backing vocals.. Right, now to track down the other albums.
I was turned on to Dave Sutherland when a very dear friend sent me a copy of his album – Comfortable Junction. “You might not like it” she said, “it’s not your normal cup of tea“. Darn right, give me Deep Purple or The Albion Band any day. But I’ll listen to anything and dutifully played the album several times. What struck me was the quality of the production; maybe not as tight as one might expect from a multi-million selling artist, but clear, bright and eminently listenable. Dave works on the album within a ‘band‘ environment – acoustic and electric guitars, bass, drums, organ and piano, harmonica, backing vocals. There’s even a mandolin to please this self professed folkie.
Where to buy: iTunes