The mercurial Martin Stephenson returns to the studio for his latest
eclectic recording. Having forsaken the trappings of big record companies
and taken the DIY approach to the limits--his last recording cost £9.99
(about $15) to make--this time it was back to the studio with a large
supporting cast, collectively described as The Force. Hence the album title.
Stephenson has always had a knack for producing highly infectious pop
tunes, one of which ("Orange is the Colour of Joy") opens the album. In its
earlier incarnation it was a simple yet effective tune; here it takes on
new life with the soul/gospel inflected backing vocals. Backini's later
remix adds a beat, some echo, horns and swirling backing vocals as pop goes
The album has a few bluesy moments, most notably on "The Sun's Coming Out,"
and "Blind Man's Blues." The former has shades of Rev. Gary Davis with
12-string guitar laid over a half-speed bad rave beat/sample. The end
result is a Piedmont meets Club sound, if you can imagine such a thing!
"Blind Man's Blues" is much more straightforward: Stephenson sings and
demonstrates his fingerpicking skills whilst Australian exile Gypsy Dave
Smith adds the fine slide guitar.
There is gospel too. "All Ways Us" has some terrific gospel-infused backing
vocals. On "Time for Jesus," support comes from vocal group Brighton Goes
Gospel Unplugged, selected with a little help from the Internet. They later
do their own thing on "Baba Num Sana" an African traditional song performed
acapella. And for those who like that sort of thing, there is even a Sacred
Harp feel to the round singing of "Collective Force."
A little bit of Latin America (the anti-bagpipe "Highland Bossa Nova"), a
bit of Western Swing (Robert Smith Wright's "Toodle Oodle Ooh!") and some
natural field recordings ("Sounds of the Garden" and "Henry Fosebrook and
the Woodland Orchestra") all add to the diversity. Running through the
album, though is a rich vein of the classy pop tunes that Stephenson
continues to turn out. The most memorable of these are probably "Every Step
Of The Way" and, somewhat ironically, "Long Forgotten." Both are relatively
simple tunes with lyrics that are easy to pick up but not so easy to forget.
There is not really a British equivalent of Americana, but if there was,
Martin Stephenson would exemplify the whole genre. Folk, pop, blues,
gospel, and much, much more, yet nearly all instantly recognizable as
Martin Stephenson. The addition of the various elements brought by The
Force adds an extra dimension that makes Stephenson's songs sound even
better. Albums like "Collective Force" help to lift the spirits and makes
the world seem a better place. Immensely enjoyable.
Simply click on the CD cover at left to order this CD NOW!
This review is copyright © 2002 by Gordon Baxter, and Blues On Stage at: www.mnblues.com, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission.
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