Thursday, 14 February 2019

ALBUM REVIEW: Simon Stanley Ward and The Shadows of Doubt - Songs from Various Places: Blue Hole Records (Out February 22nd)

An album starting with a wacky childhood desire about replicating a move star and ending listening to Test Match Special in a bath of Spanish wine is likely to create an element of curiosity. Throw in the fact that Simon Stanley Ward has concentrated his artistic output largely on stand-up comedy since the release of his previous album, and thoughts turn towards a light-hearted streak forming the backbone of this follow up record. A thought compounded by the album cover and backing band called The Shadows of Doubt. Yet there is something more substantial binding the wares of SONGS FROM VARIOUS PLACES.

Teaming up with the cream of London’s alt-country rock scene lifts the sound into a heady territory as the largely country influenced tones that brought us the 2015 eponymously titled album have to jostle side-by-side with bundles of sculptured garage pub rock. Any record spearheaded on guitar by Paul Lush (who also handles the production duties) is bound to contain loads of fired up twangy rock, and the inclusion of this in addition to loads more smart instrumentation blends imperially with the distinct quirky vocals of Simon Stanley Ward. Factor in incisive writing across ten tracks and the overall feel to his record escalates into a mood of generating multi spins.

If three plays of a record deliver a gist, double figures (if intent moves it in that direction) embeds the subtleties and nuances that improve an album as you strip away the layers. It is easy to hold onto opening track ‘Jurassic Park’ where the post-punk undertones help deliver a fast-paced ode to wishing one-self was Jeff Goldblum in the film of the title track. This is a track that instantly breeds familiarity; a feeling that repeats itself when realising that ‘Water (You Got to Have it)’ was a song brought to events like Maverick and Tingestock, during the last time that Simon played dates with Paul Lush to significant audiences outside his London hinterland.

Apart from the lively opener, the other two tracks to hit the mark in the early stages were the retro feel to ‘I Heard it All’ and the riveting ‘Wow!’ complete with a scintillating two minute guitar-fuelled outro. Several plays in and the environmental message of ‘Beluga Whale’ took hold, while the back end duo of ‘Goodbye’ and ‘Stand Up’ had to painstakingly wait before ensuring this album attained entity status in deriving maximum appeal. Ending the album with the wonderfully weird connotations of Spanish Rioja, Test Match Special and Five Live in ‘Wine’ can only fuel a bizarre imagination, but a bloody marvellous one to boot.

The decision of Simon Stanley Ward to return to recording musician status has reaped wild rewards and thus re-enforce the admirable attributes he possess in this line of entertainment. Enlisting the services of an experienced and talented team gives this album a real edge to move out of an introverted zone and show that reaching out to a range of likeminded though different styles can work. SONGS FROM VARIOUS PLACES may bounce around a flexible canvas, but it delivers a verdict that Simon Stanley Ward may have to balance his artistic activities in music and comedy for the considerable future.