Stuart Anthony — House Of Sun CD

house-of-sunIt’s fair to say that Stuart Anthony wears his influences on his sleeve. The inner sleeve of his new album, House Of Sun, to be precise, with photos that are close to slavish Nick Drake images. Opening track ‘Legacy’ does little initially to dispel this feeling. It isn’t until the middle section that a voice that might be Anthony’s own appears. And then he references ‘Pink Moon’. Pleasant though it is, at this stage things aren’t promising. More distinctive is what follows, the jazzier tinged intro to ‘House Of Sun’ and its delicate bassline suggesting more than a copyist at play, and drifting gradually into warm, mellow Tim Buckley territory. Plangent violin from Mikey Kenny, and clever use of space definitely improve this song. That summery, west-coast folky vibe runs on through the album, gradually overcoming my reservations. ‘Easy Sky’ hints at a big epic sound but holds back on the cusp. Brief instrumental ‘The Only One Left’ showcases Anthony’s guitar technique, before the soulful ‘Angels & Devils’ which initially confused me. Why, I wondered was he singing about ‘the days of British Rail’ ? It was only on a closer hearing that I recognised the lyrics as ‘you blaze a pretty trail’. Right across this album Stuart Anthony sings what are almost stories, there is a hint of background, a hint of progression, and some nice pithy lines. Importantly, he manages to convey these in a well-judged tone that meets the music and blends lyric and melody suitably. Accompanied by various other Lancaster luminaries (Mikey Kenny, Harvey Lord, Paul Walmsley and others) Stuart has crafted a balanced, homogenous album. That homogeneity is both strength and weakness perhaps. I have to say that on first listen, late at night, not totally focussed, it was nice, pleasant and a little too uniform. On the other hand, a second, devoted listen showed subtlety and grace notes. The Nick Drake-ian inflections that crop into the odd phrase are excused by the range and warmth of his voice, and the outstanding musicianship really does pull you in. It is an album of hints, of depths and of unpretentious experimentation. And then it concludes with a big Ian McNabb-ish ‘Left You Like Judas’ and you don’t feel betrayed at all. So, at its worst, House Of Sun is pleasant, relaxing, background music. That’s not a bad thing at all. At its best (the title track, the way the slide-tinged ‘Soul & Desire’ leads into the Hammond frill of ‘Falling Star’) this is quite remarkable.

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