She Just Blew Me Away
Cruel Set Of Shades
Gothic Urban Blues
Mani In A Bar
Into The Storm
Running Time: 39 mins
Harry Stafford - Gothic Urban Blues (Black Lagoon Records)
Second solo album from the Inca Babies front man sees Harry return with 10 tracks inspired by Manchester, the city that he has called home for the last 38 years. Whilst not strictly a concept album, Stafford tells a story from start to finish, evoking an image of what Mancunia means to him. Backed by Membranes Rob Haynes* - drums and Nick Brown - Bass/Guitars as well as Vincent O'Brien and Kevin Day, Gothic Urban Blues begins with a Tom Waits/Joe Gideon swampy blues meander, She Just Blew Me Away, about a serial womanising acquaintance.
A homage to sunglasses, Cruel Set Of Shades, begins by describing the eyewear, gold rimmed aviators, worn by B-29 Superfortress pilot Colonel Paul Tibbets when he dropped the first atomic bomb as "he flushed the fighting nationalists". Accompanied by a stripped down scuzz/blues bassline and punctuated by soulful shards of brass, there's a lazy summer sunday afternoon feel to it.
Gothic Urban Blues captures the sound of the city, the car horns, the alarms, the general hub-bub of urban living. A real upbeat brass driven celebration of everything on offer. A challenge to the city to deliver more, promising the listener a rollercoaster ride, "tighten the bolts and all the gears, let's see what this baby can do, strap yourself in and get your camera out". Ferris Buellers day off transported to a different architecture as the police sirens punctuate the failing light.
Painted Ocean delivers more Waits-like piano, late night smokey jazz lounge blues, as he tackles the issue of the environmental plastic pollution. As Manchester is inland I can only assume it's a statement on the general scuzziness of parts of the city, not quite Ewan MacColl's Dirty Old Town (written about Salford in 1949), made famous by The Pogues.
Side One ends with Infinite Dust, which is how the tracks are listed on the CD release because Harry has written this LP with vinyl in mind. This is how I imagine Spiritualized would sound if they tackled the blues. Steady piano and vocals track, invaded periodically by the kind of feedback heavy screeching guitar favoured by Jason Pierce, but never quite breaking through to take over. Late night listening at it's best.
Side Two and we're off and running again with Black Rain, more piano led torch song.
Sideways Shuffle is more swing jazz than blues, evoking dark images of someone up to no good skulking in the shadows faustian-like.
Man In A Bar is most Edward Lear-like lyrically "and you're served by a crustacean at the bar".
The scuzzy guitar sound returns briefly with Disappearing before mutating into a country slide. Tells a sad tale of a woman struggling with modern life, contemplating leaving it all behind. You can almost visualise the sea of lighters being held up.
Into The Storm sounds like a man putting his worldly affairs straight, knowing that there is impending doom in the offing. It's tempting, due to the time we are living through at the moment, to make claim for a Covid-19 allegory, but it's the final track of the album. The chairs are on the tables and the shutters come down as you shuffle out into the dark rainy night, neon reflections in coffin shaped puddles. Coat collar turned up and shades on.
Stafford has delivered a beautiful collection of songs, rich with imagery both lyrically and musically. In doing so he may just have invented a new iTunes genre. File under Urban Blues.
*Officially the hardest working drummer in music. Currently in 5 different bands with another 6 in the past!
Out now on digital platforms with physical versions to follow in summer including coloured vinyl.
For Fans Of: Nick Cave, Tom Waits, and Joe Gideon