Wednesday, 21 February 2018

ALBUM REVIEW: Gem Andrews - North : Market Square

Music sans frontiers. No apology for the cross language fertilisation as this is symbolic to the way borders and barriers erode in the music of Gem Andrews. Perhaps it is indicative to an artist calling Liverpool, Newcastle, Vancouver and Berlin periodically their home that wide influences are soaked up. Throw into the mix echoes of folk and country alongside a tentative alternative streak, and you delve deeper into the eclectic nature of NORTH, which makes you take note of Gem Andrews as a recording artist. Throughout the half hour of its tenure, not an inch of the canvas remains untouched thus creating a record rich in accomplishment.

NORTH is the third album from Berlin-based Gem and the follow up to the well-received VANCOUVER that surfaced to acclaim in 2016. You should start to get the drift that both titles saunter into geographical territory, with some imagination required to linking in her debut album SCATTER. Relevant or not, surroundings have probably played a major part in forming the theme of her music. Words and associations aside, and a re-enforced focus on the new release, each song makes an incisive cut on the record ensuring the listener’s attention is caught, retained and thoroughly nourished. An articulate approach to the song writing will resonate with lyric junkies, while a rounded production makes optimum use of the instruments at the band’s disposal. A mass of catchy chorus features does the album no harm as well as Gem’s alluring folk-infused vocal style.

Further folk features embed in tracks such as ‘Bare’ and ‘Feather and Skin’, where respectively fiddle and piano take hold to give the sound an earthy feel. A heavy dose of twang lifts the album into a country sphere in the upbeat number ‘Medicate’, while a waltz-like tempo to ‘Letter’ and ‘Sing Your Song’ also take the sound in a westward direction. The latter two pieces prime the listener in the opening slots, with the redemptive theme of the first one showing the strength of the song writing.

The writing resonates strongest in the rhetoric displayed in ‘Lungs’, a political piece not shying away from linking events of 1985 with today, sung with the fervour of somebody not afraid of wearing her heart in a digital footprint. Gem’s outlook has likely evolved, and taken further root, as she moved within progressive communities, where art often plays an important role in giving vital causes a voice. One selfish view is that we do not see enough of her on the UK’s singer-songwriter circuit, but good albums offer periodic compensation.

NORTH is not the sole domain of Gem’s song writing as she strays into the work of others on three occasions, although these do not undermine her own compositions. A cover of Kate McGarringle’s ‘Come a Long Way’ probably seals a contemporary folk feel as the defining trait and harks back to the time she spent in Canada. The other two covers feature the work of the late poet Julia Darling among the writing credits, an artist synonymous with the North East. Sonically, ‘Two Lighthouses’ takes the sound in a more roots direction, while ‘Straight Lines’ backs up the country credentials.

If you are seeking a simple acoustic number, then ‘Carole’ will oblige as we revert to songs penned solely by Gem, before the near omnipresent fiddle closes out. ‘Two by Two’ gets the eleventh and final track mention, probably implying that it still has some work to do to create similar waves to the stronger numbers. Wherein, resides the notion that this album is not one that you will totally grasp in the first few listens. Musically, it does the job early on, but there is so much more to discover when time is granted.

NORTH gives Gem Andrews the ideal tool to plant deep roots into the spirited singer-songwriter network and provide a valuable voice to just causes. Where it takes her is likely down to fate, but an increased band of followers are sure to be not far away. 

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