If the musical genre that went by the name of “goth” quickly got weighed down with pantomime pretensions, corny cliche and primary school theatrics until it disappeared into its own black hole, Gothic Novel is the perfect antidote to such silliness. Taking the general theme suggested by the title it is a collection of tales based around gothic literature, dark romance and moonlit encounters. Some might label such a device a concept album, but better perhaps to call it an album of concepts, especially given the collaborative and fluid nature of the music.
Even on the first play of this album you come away with the feeling that these are songs forged by a very skilled writer and recorded by an experienced band. And you would be right, just one look at Mats Ronander’s resume reveals that he not only has a pile of solo albums behind him but is a go to, top flight session man and has toured as part of, not only home grown legends such as ABBA but has graced the ranks of the likes of Ian Hunter and Graham Parker’s live line ups. In short, the man knows what he is doing. And then some!
Having gathered around him an equally impressive cast of players he has created an album which mixes slick country grooves, polished blues and approachable rock, all shot through with accessible, soulfulness and infectious vibes. It’s where commercial possibilities meet rootsy traditions, where the sound of the American dream gets dressed up for an even bigger international audience.
At one extreme you have the purer Nashville infused sounds of the Karin Risberg led Nothing’s The Same, a song that just glistens with rhinestones and personal reflection and at the other The Bridge plays with big funky, soulful blues. The title track wanders through some latin inspired beats, Spare Me Some change is a bluesy plea and My World showcases the gospel harmonies which are never very far away from the proceedings.
It’s a fine album, deftly constructed, able to wander across genres yet deliver a consistent overall sound, one where rootsy underground music is taken from the truck stops and downtown blues bars and represented and repackaged for a slicker uptown audience. Purists might prefer their music with the rough edges still in evidence but Ronander’s ability to create such sounds for a much bigger stage is exactly why he has had such a successful career.
A lot seems to be made of the passing of our rock icons these days but not only the continued existence of Ian Hunter, but the fact that at the grand old age of 77 he is still releasing records, should be more of a cause for celebration. And here he returns with his first record in 4 years doing what he does best – wonderfully lazy, knowingly loose, groove laden rock’n’roll carrying wonderfully gravel voiced salvos.
But if anyone were to write a musical eulogy for the passing of David Bowie, then why not the man who’s own band, Mott The Hoople, have him to thank for their resurrection and commercial kickstart. Having already paid his respects to Mick Ronson two decades earlier with the song Michael Picasso, Dandy sees Hunter pay homage to his old friend and do so with a tune dripping in Bowie’s own musical motifs and Motts signature sound palette. The two were always so closely related for obvious reasons anyway.
Inspirations are drawn from history, mythology, musical reverence, travel, street smart words of wisdom and personal reflection but if you were expecting him to show signs of slowing down, you will be pleasantly surprised; when it has the desire to, this album rocks as hard as anything from his impetuous youth.
In fact aging seems to suit Hunter with his string of 21st century releases Rant, Shrunken Heads, Man Overboard, When I’m President and this current collection all showing no let up in the quality of his song writing and if anything gaining an increased eloquence to match the ferocity and passion which as always been the hall mark of his music.