Having been called upon to review several CD's of late in the more traditional music of the Scottish Isles, all of which I enjoyed, this EP has come as a bit of a surprise coming from a singer songwriter originally from the Isle of Bute. This is because if someone had handed me this CD and told me it originated in Nashville Tennessee, I would have accepted it totally. It oozes authenticity, although it seems most of it was written while Al Shields was in Spain supporting Andrew Taylor of the Dropkicks.
Al Shields is an Edinburgh-based songwriter, with influences rooted in old-time country, folk and blues music. From the small Scottish island of Bute (where he grew up on a healthy diet of country and folk music from his mother's record collection), Al moved to Edinburgh in 2005, having an interest in other bands such as the Wilted Roses, he is also a founding member of indie outfit Ardentjohn, with whom he has enjoyed independent success.
"Counting The Hours" Sunday Morning six am., and I haven't slept a wink. This is a predicament that most of have felt we have been in at one time or another. What to do? it is too early to hit the bar and too late to do many things. Just have to sit here counting the hours until you get back home. A song therefore about missing a loved one and not having the drive to do anything but wait... and wait. It has all the hallmarks of a Country and Western ballad, the pedal steel slide guitar and lead break with regular percussion backing. I found it more engaging than I thought I was going to. A lesson to me not to be hasty in coming to a judgment on a track.
"Closer" This is a slight noisier, more passionate song about whenever disaster occurs it is always the ordinary folk in the front line. They too need love and compassion and the comfort of those close to them. They need to keep friends and colleagues even closer. I can see lots of folk line dancing to this one, such is the driving beat.
"Kick Your Feet Up." A distinctive and appealing song touching on the perennial subject of a love who is going away and whose departure is not welcome. There are a few more hours to relax in my arms before you have to go. Then you are gone. Our hero waits for the return of his love and fills the time trying to write a song with which to greet the home comer, but is finding it more difficult than he thought as his focus is on the hour of reunification.
"Holy Ground" This song poses the question, "did you have the same fears that I did? Did you see the things I saw? or were the memories crushed underfoot like a roller making a new road in the rush to life outside of that old house?" Like a person wanting to know if another shared his somewhat scary experiences. This a more plaintiff musical offering than the other songs on the EP and it is enhanced by being in a minor key. It is an intruiging and slightly disturbing message.
"The Road" The urge to leave home in search of something, not knowing what is perhaps in all of us at sometime in our lives. However life on the road lines our faces and changes us, even if we don't get far before we return. When we do, the road calls to us every now and then, so we have the dichotomy of having everything we need at home, but is there something more out there for us? Despite the difference in subject matter and tone, the track has all the bounce of Kirsty MacColl's "There's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's Elvis." So it should be a popular concert hit for that reason alone. This new band, being an electrification of Al Shield's earlier more acoustic sound, incorporating members of his old band and others, is a departure that is likely to be welcomed by gig audiences. Certainly, this would be a tremendous band to see live.
"The Boys In the Band" This tribute to band members, written whilst Al was in Spain on tour supporting aforesaid Andrew Taylor, prompted Andrew to begin requesting this song at the concerts. As Al remarks, "when a fellow songwriter shows that kind of enthusiasm, you realise you're heading in the right direction." The boys in this band Stuart Brunton (guitar), Adam McMillan (bass), David McManus (drums) and Dale Birrell (pedal steel) certainly, on this distinctive EP, combine to provide an authentic but individual thrust into Americana with particular emphasis on Country and Western which most appealing. I am very glad to have it in my collection.
"Fire On Holy Ground" is released on 30th April 2018
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