By Gary Stewart Band
I first came to hear of the Gary Stewart Band at the Futuresound heats in July of last year, when I was bowled over by their performance. And almost a year on, here we have it, a brand spanking new EP from the quartet who have worked their way to the top of the folk scene in Leeds and the surrounding area.
Opener 'Big Ben' delightfully lures the listener in with a guitar arrangement that sounds like it was just meant to be. Gosh, it's like you couldn't possibly imagine the song sounding any other way... it is - dare I say it - perfect. Seamless. Gary Stewart and Andy Hawkins' respective vocals and acoustic guitars are so skillfully in sync, merging together as they do to create a soothing effect that still manages to hold your undivided attention and not allow it to wane in the slightest. A more than promising start with a song that takes you on a journey that will hopefully become clearer with the rest of the EP, but that even if the purpose is not specifically marked, you'll return to your starting destination with a refreshed state of mind.
Next up, 'Woody Allen' begins with a much more angry and urgent tone that compels the listener to absorb each word and note. The vocals seem more stripped down too, which works in every way as when the backing vocals join there is created a harmony like no other. Together Gary and Andy sing a song of rejection that is only lessened by the persona's adoration of filmmaker Woody Allen. The band appear to play their instruments with a newly marked intensity which sees the EP strengthen by force. It's as if what they're playing and singing is that important that you just must hear it, and it sure works for me.
The title track ups the ante even more, as the false sense of security that the band deceptively lured us into firmly disappears. The musical arrangement here is not made from love or happiness, but an energetic anger that reaches out and grabs you by the neck. It is brilliant. Who'd have thought that folk could slap you up with such immediacy?! Personally this EP has drastically altered my perception of the genre, as well as boldly stating that genre means no boundaries these days, that music is music. Gary sings a tale of the instability of life, drawing inspiration from the song and EP title that one can never be sure of one's direction or what's round the next corner. I am scared of what the final track may bring...
But fear not dear reader as 'Lollipop Love' marks a return to the comfortably familiar ground of track one. The final song that resounds in our collective ears tells a tale of a meeting between two people with the ambiguous repeated message that "It's been a long long long long long long long long long long long long time for you". Make of this what you will, but what's for sure is that the Gary Stewart Band cleverly construct a veneer of sincerity over venomous lyrics that don't necessarily mean as well as they make out.
All in all, an EP that could be described as 'lovely' without being cringe worthy. An EP that's gonna shake up this little scene of ours, with the best intentions at heart, of course.