Saturday, 2 May 2015

The Quireboys' 'St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul' - Album Review

The Quireboys have been well and truly on fire for the past couple of years. 2013 saw the release of their first album of original material since 2008, and last year they released another album Black Eyed Sons. Both that and it's predecessor Beautiful Curse were in my 'Albums of the Year' lists for their respective years, and both are fantastic albums that I listen to regularly. After putting out two great albums in quick succession, the band could have been forgiven for having a bit of time out to recoup and find more inspiration - but clearly that is not how they work. Originally planning to record a follow-up to 2009's album of acoustic re-workings Halfpenny Dancer, the band - in a studio in Klippan, Sweden - found new inspiration and instead wrote ten new songs for the album that would become St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul. The four official members of the band: frontman Spike; guitarists Guy Griffin and Paul Guerin; and keyboardist Keith Weir; along with producer Martin Ekelund (Bonafide), who handled all of the album's bass guitar and drums, wrote and recorded this album in less than a week. Compared to the brash rock 'n' roll of their high-charting debut album A Bit of What You Fancy, and all of the excellent albums they have released since - St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul is a different beast. While the band have always embraced the acoustic, gentler side of rock from the very beginning (and, indeed, Halfpenny Dancer was a celebration of this), they have never written and recorded an album specifically in that vein. This is The Quireboys at their most bluesy, and also their most exposed. There are no big, ringing power chords or powerful rock drums to hide behind; this really is a heart-on-the-sleeve record. That is not to say that the album does not rock. St Cecilia and the Gypsy Soul is not full of drippy ballads, and The Quireboys' trademark rock energy still flows through the veins of the songs here. This album just shows a different side to the band, one that basks in the simple, rootsy arrangements of songs and is not afraid to sound a little rough around the edges. As with Black Eyed Sons, this album is released as part of an excellent package. Included is the original Halfpenny Dancer album, which has been out of print for a while, and the concert Halfpenny Live that was released in 2010 to fanclub member only and, again, has not been available for quite a while.

The album starts with Gracie B, a song that is Quireboys through and through. The subtle boogie created by the chugging guitars carries the rock spirit the band are known for. Spike sounds better than ever on this release, and the space given to his voice really brings out the best in his gravelly delivery. Not willing to let their singer take all the plaudits, Weir impresses early on with a laid back keyboard solo, and there is a also a guitar solo later that cuts through the pulsing acoustic riffing. The murky atmosphere created by this song works well to set the tone for the album, and remind us that acoustic music can still be moody. Land of my Father dispels that murkiness and is much more upbeat. It is based around a simple chord pattern on the acoustic guitar, surrounded by gentle keyboards that envelop the sound and give the song a very summery feel. This is an extremely catchy little song, that will no doubt be included in the band's acoustic sets for years to come. I like the fact that different instruments were included on this album too, and you can hear a dobro cutting through the acoustic guitar chords on occasions to give the song a country vibe. St Cecilia is acoustic rock at it's best, and you could easily imagine this song being played electrically and it being a future Quireboys classic. The piano-driven song really rocks and contains a killer chorus that is a real trademark for the band. The verses have a nice stop-start feel with some aggressive acoustic stabs and staccato drumming; but the chorus really opens out with fluid piano lines and excellent vocal melodies from Spike. I hope the band decide to play this song live, even in an electric set, as it would set the room alight! The Promise is the album's first ballad, and it does not feel too different from the ballads included on the band's past couple of albums. It is a mournful song with melodic acoustic guitars and piano; but the highlight is the song's chorus that contains cello beautifully played by producer Ekelund. Spike has always had a knack for injecting plenty of emotion into his vocal delivery, and this song is a perfect example of this. His performance during the song's chorus is heartbreaking, and shows why he is one of the most underrated singers in rock history. Can't Hide it Anymore is a first for the band, as it features Griffin on vocals instead of Spike. Griffin's voice is quite good, and has a slight punk-twang to it that suits the song well. There is some really great lap steel playing here from Guerin, but the lack of Spike's voice (despite how well Griffin does) makes the song feel less like The Quireboys. Still, it was a good experiment to try, and it is still an enjoyable song.

Out of Your Mind is a piece full of blues boogie thanks to pulsing piano chords and subtle slide guitar licks. This is the sort of song that really highlights Spike's talents. His voice might be an acquired taste to some, but to me he sums up rock 'n' roll with this rough delivery and dynamic stage presence. Weir also gets a lot of time on this song to show off, with lots of ringing piano that stands out well and contests with Spike for the spotlight. The Hurting Kind is a more overtly-melodic piece withing a solid acoustic rock backing and some beautiful vocal melodies from Spike in the chorus that make use of some higher notes than he would normally attempt. There is a great guitar solo in this song too, something which is not common on this album, so when one does appear it stands out and makes you take notice. This song will be stuck in your head after listening to this album, and I hope the band decide to play it live. Adaline is another lovely song. Weir's piano riffing drives the song, with ringing acoustic chords adding colour where appropriate. There is another killer solo in this song, which highlights what great musicians Guerin and Griffin are. As a guitar duo, they are hugely underrated and the understanding they have is fantastic. I really like this song, and it could have easily fitted on another of the band's more recent works as it has a great upbeat feel that the band do so well. The Best are Not Forgotten is a slightly strange song that features quite a lot of prominent mandolin playing which gives it a unique sound within the album. It seems to be quite a sad song, and the all-encompassing keyboards the surround the song help to add to that mood. I cannot quite put my finger on what is odd about this song, but it just sounds so different from anything the band have done before, and it works well. Final song Why Did it Take So Long also pushes boundaries for the band. Over a cheap-sounding drum loop (which works far better than it should), Weir's very simple piano and Spike's vocals flow effortlessly. Leaving a pure ballad for the album's end was a good idea as it helps to make the album end on a quieter note which helps to emphasise the moods established throughout. This is an extremely simple song, with no guitars at all - just Weir's keyboards, Spike's voice, and that drum loop. Overall, St Cecilia and the Gypy Soul is a really solid album that celebrates another side to the band than the one we normally see. While I do not think it is as good as their last couple of albums, there is still something about this album that makes me reach for it often. The Quireboys can do no wrong, and this is a worthy entry into their discography.

The album was released on 30th March 2015 via Off Yer Rocka Recordings. Below is the band's promotional lyric video for Gracie B.

No comments:

Post a Comment