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Adam BeattieAdam Beattie
Album: The Road Not Taken
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10

London based Scottish singer-songwriter Adam Beattie has been playing and recording since 2003 and 'The Road Not Taken' is his fourth studio album to date, the first being back in 2006. He has gigged and toured extensively, not only in the UK but across most of the European countries as well and received plaudits from the likes of BBC Radio 6 Music's Mary Anne Hobbs.

His sound is described as 'an eclectic mix of folk stews and dirty blues' that mixes Celtic folk, American blues, country and early jazz balladry.

The album was co-produced, mixed and recorded by Adam and jazz musician Fred Thomas at Fred's studio. Adam sings on all the tracks and plays most of the guitars, Brooke Sharkey supplies backing vocals throughout, Marco Quarantotto drums, Piotr Jordan violin and everything else is either played or created by Fred Thomas.

Of the ten tracks here, nine are self-composed and one is a co-write with Mairearad Green.

This is a beautifully recorded album and Adam really does sound like he is in the room singing, all warm, clear and focussed. He has a distinctively sweet, husky voice, which has this break in it when he pushes into a higher register at the end of lines or in the middle of phrases, which adds a real vulnerability.

Similarly, all the instrumentation is perfectly captured allowing the deceptively simple sounding arrangements to reveal all sorts of subtle, musical dynamics.

Factor in exquisite harmony vocals from Brooke Sharkey and nuanced playing from everyone else involved and you have a stunning recording.

Opening track 'The Man I've Become' illustrates of all of the above. Boasting a lovely jazz feel the guitar ushers the song in and it layers up for the next forty seconds or so until Adam's vocal enters in his best 'period crooner' mode. It is not just the obvious instrumentation that catches the ear, but there are all sorts of industrial cracks, bangs and wheezes going on behind the scenes in the track that lends a lovely Tom Waits feel to the proceedings.

Second song, 'The Same Sea' is an early favourite of mine. The opening few seconds sounds like a recorded 'click track' before a drone and sweetly picked guitar riff push the song along.

Adam's vocal is beautifully resigned and the opening couplet 'Meant to write sooner but I've been busy of late' conveys volumes in its glorious simplicity. He has a real knack of bringing intensity and depth to his songs with lyrics that are almost every day and conversational. Not a single word is wasted, unnecessary or throwaway.

'I'm On Your Side' is almost a mini production in itself. What sounds something like a didgeridoo drone slides in whilst a bit of mechanical wheezing, discordant violin and percussion follows in very atmospheric fashion. Adam offers another sweet vocal but his phrasing is very clipped and precise adding something of a music hall feel, which works very well indeed. For reasons that are not immediately apparent other than sharing a generalised war theme, this song reminds me of Richard Thompson's 'Al Bowlly's In Heaven', which is a very good thing I think!

This is another album where each individual track is very strong and standouts or favourites will be down to the personal taste of the listener.

For me, 'The Family Tree' and 'Welcome Home' were two.

'The Family Tree' intro is a timeless, traditional sounding folk melody played on the guitar before a particularly warm, intimate vocal follows the guitar line to give an almost 'nursery rhyme' feel to the song. The lyrics are full of images and metaphors and although an original, this song has an immediacy that makes it feel like a traditional ballad.

The closing track 'Welcome Home' is my favourite song on the album. Overtly it seems like a sentimental tale of Adam returning to his family home where another family now lives, so he imagines or remembers his Mothers greeting of the prodigal son's return. The lyrics play things straight and are full of literal, visual descriptions and are even more evocative for that. I found this song very moving and I think the key to that is Adam's vocal which feels constantly on the verge of cracking, as though he is singing in a register that is just a bit above his normal range. Again beautifully recorded, his voice has that previously mentioned sense of vulnerability and longing that racks up the emotion in a very unselfconscious fashion. This is a marvellous song to end the album.

If I have one very slight criticism of this CD it is that all the songs range from fairly slow paced down to so slow paced they almost fall over! This is not a problem with each individual song, they are all lovely. However, over an album one or two faster, pushy songs that rattled along a bit would have changed up the overall dynamics a little.

Without doubt, on all levels, this is a very impressive album and I enjoyed it greatly. Thoughtful, subtly arranged songs, distinctively sung, finely played by all involved and stunningly recorded and produced. Between them, Adam Beattie and Fred Thomas have created something rather lovely here.

Paul Jackson