Smile – Ed James (reviewed by T. Bebedor)

There is a thought in music that the freshest, boldest sounds come from the younger musicians, from those coming through with something new and dramatic that will test and blur the borders of music. Unfortunately the audience is rarely able to keep up with these new directions so inevitably there is an audience preferring to enjoy more of what they like, you could argue this is the dreaded familiar, the rehashing and remixing of previous trends but, like my Dad says, there is a reason vanilla ice cream is still popular…

There is nothing new or particularly fresh in North East songwriter Ed James, having arrived at being a musician quite late, his music is a combination of rock, folk, blues, country with an added dash of flamenco. It’s quite a mix of genres but it probably reflects his record collection (the benefit of being a musician for so long means you’ve had longer to build up thousands of musical references) and it’s not a bad journey to take.

If you’re expecting the same old retelling of the ‘one man and a guitar’ story, think again, there is variation and surprises in equal measure. Opening track ‘Cast Your Eyes’ uses Middle Eastern rhythms and instruments (used to equally good effect on ‘Famagusta’) and immediately informs you that this is going to be an album of twists and turns and the unexpected.

This is a man looking backwards, particularly on tracks ‘My Shooting Star’ and ‘Howay Woman Man, Howay’ but with a comforting glance, there are no depressing songs describing the way things were and how bad things are now. It’s the voice of experience and knowledge, looking back and smiling slightly at the changes life throws at us all, ‘Trapped In A Fat Suit’ is a wry look at how, even though the mind stays young, one day you’re the same person inside but outside, it’s a different matter. It’s a song straight from the notes Ian Dury and is interesting musically.

To be honest I think the success of the album comes from the changes the music takes, from the already described Middle Eastern nod to the folk flavours, the celtic influence (unsurprising given the geography of Newcastle with its busy nautical industry attracting seafarers) and the flamenco guitar – oh add in a few ballads for good measure – you come to the conclusion that Ed James is a musician first and foremost, picking up shiny tid-bits to flesh out his songs.

If the young, new and bold isn’t your thing and you still enjoy songs written and played by musicians, you could do a lot worse than picking up a copy of Smile.

 

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