On 22nd April 2014 at 16:00 Jimmy Horrigan wrote...
By Gary Stewart
Notwithstanding a recent foray into uncharted waters where I genuinely struggled to locate or latch on to positivity whilst covering a very different release, it's been a while since I did any of this. Although the two events were unrelated, Gary Stewart's last album arrived around the time I rested my pen. My latest hiatus now over - I've chosen to mark my return proper by reviewing Gary; a chap at the heart of all that is great about the city's music scene.
Naturally warm tones, sentient storytelling and the wherewithal to wrap the two in both subtle and stunning arrangements with ease, make this a very special album. Relatively short - a smidgen under forty minutes - these ten songs sit together perfectly, yet stylistically they journey along several different trails. Firing a few questions in Gary's direction I realised this layering was precisely what he set out to achieve. There was another song originally intended for the album but "Fools Gold" filled a better gap in the variety of songs". Having older songs ("Boy Cries Wolf" and "Ballerina") alongside others "that haven't really 'lived' yet" helps to add more detail and texture to the landscape too. In Gary's words, ""Fools Gold" was literally written two days before it was recorded and I wrote the lyrics after we'd recorded the track." That this diversity in style and approach occurs without any unloved bumps in the road only adds to the album's worth and further shapes my impression of Gary as a vastly talented musician and authentic troubadour.
The troubadour tag isn't one I use lightly but this is musical poetry. Some of the images are so beautifully vivid that I'm quickly lost. I see fields where distant chimney stacks blur and muddy the horizon, bridging the gap between verdant blades and smoky sky with their splodges of man-made darkness. Modernity and tradition in one place, I guess. In other places I'm singing to my sweetheart atop a mountain, counting to ten after my first bad day in the working world, back in the playground of my junior school running away from dinner-ladies, or laughing myself to tears at the squirming misfortune of an exposed politician. All sorts of things pop into my head as I hear different themes emerge. Frailty, joy, reflection, family life, growth and love; they all play a part but none vie for the spotlight or threaten the balance.
I was always giddy about hearing "The Tin Foil Collective" and with Gary's pledge campaign featured teaser videos and demo versions right up to the release date, which only heightened the anticipation. Since seeing him open for Miles Hunt and Erica Nockalls at All Hallows Church last year, I've been waiting to hear studio versions of the songs he played that night. Well, one song more than the others, I admit. "Wicker Waltz" amounts to infinitely more than the sum of all its parts and taps straight into my musicality without sounding like it's even trying. It's simple and sweet, with the innocence and familiarity of an inter-war years' ditty. "Butterfly Ball" is another moment of sweetness on the album to counter the livelier pace of say "Boy cries wolf", "Fool's Gold" or "Sticks and Stones", or the darker shades of "Mountains of the Moon".
Let's round things up because I don't think it should take longer to read about it than it does to listen to it. The album's nothing short of spectacular and one I'm proud to say I pledged to help make happen. In Gary's own words, "For me, the perfect album is ten tracks". I couldn't agree more, Gary. You got it spot on! Buy it to download or on CD via Gary's page on the link below, where you'll also find some earlier releases too!