By Scott Wainwright
For me this year has been one continuous discovery. Everywhere I look I find local talent just waiting to be heard and shared. You only have to tune in to Alan Raw's programme on Thursday evenings (BBC Radio Leeds, yeah - like you didn't know that) or get to one of the dozens of local venues buzzing with gigs every night of the week to hear the range of artists producing great music in our part of the world. I get to hear more too through the links and copies people send to me. The time I spend listening to local music is rapidly overtaking time I spend listening to anything else - and rightly so. It's cyclic; the more I write, the more music I get sent, the more I hear, the more I write. An unintended plug there for why everyone reading this should share the great new local music they discover by writing something for LMS. I didn't mean to plug the site within the site - which I appreciate is a bit odd - but that's how I got to hear Scott Wainwright. I'd reviewed the Martin Plock releases earlier in the year and soon after that Scott got in touch offering to send his back catalogue my way. Never one to refuse a freebie where music is concerned I was only too happy to oblige. So it's with this in mind that I should really kick things off with an apology - to Scott. I've taken an age to write this so for his sake I hope it's been worth the wait.
The opener is "Sail Away" with its perfectly worded strains and a rhythm that gives the effect of a bobbing boat on gentle waters. This is gentle folksy stuff and sets the direction of the album so if that's not your thing then you might not like the voyage. It's perfect night-in with a book and a glass of red music in my house. Scott's vocals are husky and warm with almost drunken touches to his part on the chorus, which is embellished by a sweet, contrasting female line adding balance. "Alaska", probably my favourite song, follows offering simple guitar and strong vocal work not too far from Eddie Vedder in places. The harmonica gives it a familiar feel of protest era Dylan, which when you consider some of the lyrics, ("Shifting sands, sifting pans - precious metal in a rich man's hands. Alaska: was it worth so much?"), is probably not far off the mark. "Midnight Draws Near" continues the portentous theme examining the dangers of the modern world and the life we've created for ourselves. At least I'm pretty certain that that's it. I've either completely got my head into Scott's idea that "All That Glitters..." or I've been reading too much Alain de Botton and back issues of The Idler than is healthy for one person.
"Let Jesus Replace Your Troubled Waters" is the first time in these songs where the influence of Scott's faith reveals itself without any hidden meaning. Whereas elsewhere there's ambiguity in the titles ("I Will Return to Thee" for instance - a slow, bluegrass number) and lyrics, where the subjects could easily be a man or woman, here the subject is evidently a higher being. Like all good Catholics I'm lapsed so although I know stuff about the big book I choose not to incorporate it into my life save for me being - I hope - a nice chap. For Scott though, just reading the sleeve notes tells you his faith is a major driving force to his work. All I'll say is, whatever it is helping him pen songs like these, it's clearly a positive influence. It certainly doesn't mean this is religious music. I think I can say that - the guy is simply inspired by his own "Big Man" - that's all. Now I think about it - if I didn't have music with religious themes in my collection I'd have no Johnny Cash or Nick Cave in there! So, it's all good. "Come by Here" had me scratching my head until I looked into the etymology of the hymn covered here. I'd thought it looked a bit like "Kumbaya" when I first scanned the track listing and it turned out I was right - the title is a translation from Creole. Don't say I don't teach you anything.
There are beautiful moments everywhere on the album but none more so than in the final two tracks. "Don't Let It Get you Down" is possibly the simplest music on the album but has a wonderfully soothing way about it for that. It builds to a gospel feel (the style, not the books, we've moved on now!) towards the end and the production on the vocals completes the song in the last minute or so. This brings me to "Empty Hands" - the closing track. If I could remember more about notation I could probably tell you something about the key of this one but alas I've forgotten almost everything I used to know. The effect of the music though is almost discordant but it helps to add darkness to the heartfelt and saddening tale being told. Hunger, desperation, poverty and the responsibilities of a doting and dying mother; the empty hands can't feed, clothe, provide or give anything other than love. Perhaps the theme of modern life and its ills at work again, but whatever it is it's the perfect closer to a great album and sums up the things that make Scott want to pick up his guitar and tell a story.