Saturday, 24 January 2015

Porchlight Smoker - Water Into Sand : At The Helm Records

The phrase ‘water into sand’ may represent a radical transformation but the album of the same title by Porchlight Smoker eases along the roots spectrum with a far more sedate transition. While never settling on a single sound, the album retains a high impact to effortlessly make a case for instant projection up your listening list. After synchronising the title of their second album ‘2’ with its chronological status, WATER INTO SAND sees the Brighton based quartet tackle that all important third album with gusto, craft and guile to produce a super release fully encompassing the diversity of the band’s make up.

Folk, Americana, bluegrass, old time and traditional country are labels pretty much relevant to this album with the classic combo of lyrics, sound and vocals expertly reflecting these styles. From the quintessential English sound of the South East, through the Celtic influence of Eastern Scotland via the wide open spaces of Wichita Kansas, the original locations of Porchlight’s core elite feature heavily in the directional influence of WATER INTO SAND. Whether covering the Jimmie Rodger’s standard ‘Waiting for a Train’ or recording an original road song based on the semi-iconic border-to-border route ‘US75’, American themes and styles undoubtedly run through the record, which is obviously primarily influenced by Kansas native band member Scott Smith, He has also enlisted the services of a couple of compatriots back home and he used his co-write with Carl Clark ‘Mary Mary’ to open the album alongside a composition from Jeff Pickering, who also played pedal steel on his song ‘Instead

Fred Gregory shares his musical duties with the other increasingly acclaimed Brighton based band Hatful of Rain and the contributions he makes to Porchlight are just as profound. In fact his delightful fable-like song ‘Man in a Boat’ takes the honours as the album’s most memorable track with a tale of a fishing trip gone wrong told in stunning and effective simplicity. Fred has also written three more songs for the album in ‘A Day in Mid-July’, the heartfelt ballad ‘If I Had a Way’ and the closing track ‘I Don’t Mind’. The latter is the most eye (or more technically ear) opener of this trio with an almost late sixties rock vocal style attaching itself to a banjo led backbeat.

As you would expect from an album rich in roots influence, mandolin, double bass, dobro, banjo and lap steel take most of the lead in underpinning a sound, with occasional interludes from fiddle, accordion and harmonica. In fact the guys let the music do the talking in the form of the album’s sole instrumental, and the Steve Bell composed, ‘Cleaner’s Rag’. Steve, who hails from Dundee, is likely to be the album’s Celtic advocate and his song ‘Maria Kennedy’ has all the wonderful traits of a Scottish folk ballad. Whilst an original tune wrapped up in a familiar sound, the positive spin to this song, which deserves its ranking amongst the album’s finest numbers, is it’s a credit to Steve’s skill at honing in on a popular style. As well as penning ‘US75’, a long way from Bonny Scotland mind you, he also wrote the remaining song ‘Homeline’, to conclude this eleven-strong assembling of impressive compositions and tunes.

Although not featuring in the writing credits, Scott Warman plays a great role in keeping the sound together with percussion and double bass duties alongside vocal pieces. In fact the diverse vocal input of all four band members is core to the album remaining fresh and an integral factor in describing it as versatile and cohesive with an abundance of unique contributions. At this point it is worth mentioning the technical role of Al Scott, who also was at the helm of Hatful of Rain’s fine album last year, and the band’s link up with the Brighthelmstone team for the release of the record.

With its jingling roots soundtrack, the members of Porchlight Smoker are the architects of a sincere bunch of songs delivering a timeless essence of transatlantic impressionism. Interspersed with inspired individualism and held together by carefully constructed creativity perfectly sums up WATER INTO SAND. Album number three just could be the magic number to lift Porchlight Smoker to the heights that their talents warrant.

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