By Daniel Pearson
Debut full-length from Leeds-based singer-songwriter Daniel Pearson is a predominantly alt-country record, which occasionally uses dual vocals and electric guitars to bring some variety to an album that isn't content to just churn out acoustic ditties. However, with any singer-songwriter act of this ilk, it's a given that there'll be a few one-man-and-his-guitar numbers, and 'Satellites' offers up a trio of such songs: 'Masquerade,' 'Loose Change' and 'Satellite Town.'
The brisk, scratchy strum of 'Loose Change' is the simplest of the three songs. With only a scattering of jangly beats punctuating its acoustic rattle, it's repetitive and far from life-changing, but Pearson has the sort of warm, melodic voice that transforms this potential snooze fest into an enjoyable, low-key sing-song. 'Loose Change' won't have you coming back for repeat listens, but it's pleasant enough while it lasts.
'Masquerade' is a little more complicated, evolving from a single thread of dewy acoustic guitar, into a more forceful strum accented with subtle string arrangements and lullaby chimes. Again, its softly-softly approach would be lacklustre, if it wasn't for Pearson's soulful and emotionally-charged vocals.
'Satellite Town' is built on wafting acoustic guitars that are as simple as the central refrains in 'Masquerade' and 'Loose Change.' However, 'Satellite Town' puts an emphasis on specific, storytelling lyrics, that makes for a more absorbing listen.
There's also a trio of acoustic-based songs with a country and western slant, namely 'Tracks,' 'Black 'n Blue' and '4th July.' The one with the most infectious energy, is the rollicking '4th July.' The acoustic guitar and drum lines bounce merrily along, meaning this is one song that'll get your toes tapping. Its central lament of "I told a lie / on the fourth of July" may be a little obvious and an irritatingly neat rhyme, but it's a hoedown-friendly chorus if ever there was one. Pearson is also joined on vocal duties by Candy Hayes, which adds an extra dimension to 'Satellites' and prevents it from being just another dyed-in-the-wool singer-songwriter album. Hayes' voice has an irresistibly breathy, country and western edge to it that perfectly compliments '4th July's riotous, barn dance sing-along. '4th July' is a shot of good, uncomplicated fun.
Candy Hayes also contributes vocals to the clattering 'Tracks.' The combination of springy guitar and jangly beats gives 'Tracks' a refreshing sassiness, and the dual vocals, when laid over that chirpy backing track, prove irresistible: 'Tracks' will get you singing along. Meanwhile, 'Black 'n Blue' starts off in stripped-down, one-man-and-his-guitar fashion, but it's a style that compliments the start of the song, highlighting every quiver in those skittering guitar flourishes and vocals lines. 'Black 'n Blue' then breaks out the steadily wailing electric guitars, piano, and knocking drum lines, and evolves into a foot-stamping, country-infused sing along that's seriously good fun.
Electric guitars also make appearances on 'Long Way Round' and 'I Dug Myself A Hole.' Languid electric guitars shimmy away in the background of 'Long Way Round,' while the acoustic clatters away in the foreground. 'Long Way Round' is Pearson's usual alt-country fair, but with slickly cool rhythms buried beneath that veneer of acoustic strumming.
Pearson uses another electric guitar backdrop, but to decidedly more downbeat effect, in 'I Dug Myself A Hole.' This time, the backdrop is a mournful, echoey electric guitar, while the acoustic in the foreground glistens and glitters along to a steadier beat. It's an affecting combination, and Pearson has another heart string-bothering trick up his sleeve, with a luxuriant pre-chorus build-up where Hayes provides an ethereal echo to Pearson's vocals. 'I Dug Myself A Hole' moves perfectly from one emotion to the next, and consequently it will keep you wrapt until the final notes.
Pearson only puts one foot seriously wrong on this album, and that's with 'Try It.' This song is so overloaded with instruments, that you'll struggle to pick out a coherent tune. A piano rumbles away in the distance, half-obscured by sudden, ratchetty bursts of guitar and flurries of sparkly acoustic strumming. Even worse, all the instruments seem to be in their own separate worlds, playing their own separate songs, and not even Pearson's always-emotional and charismatic vocals can clarify the tune at the heart of 'Try It.' Hayes joins him once again for the chorus, but as each vocal line inevitably rises to an easy, hooky peak, there's something a little irritating and obvious about it. 'Try It' is definitely not 'Satellites's strongest moment.
Album-closer 'It's Been A While' starts off in the softest possible fashion, and builds to a gorgeous, emotionally-charged instrumental end-section that finishes 'Satellites' on a high. It opens with an acoustic guitar picking out a hesitant refrain, and vocals where Pearson sounds suitably unsure of himself, and is gradually joined by rumbling piano notes that gather to a jazzy peak, whilst never losing sight of the sadness at the heart of the song. 'It's Been A While' is the perfect album-closer, as it builds from quaint acoustic beginnings, into something more developed and emotionally-affecting, as is the case with much of this album.
Daniel Pearson is another name to add to the list of Leeds-based singer-songwriters, currently producing strong, distinctive, acoustic-based songs.