'Urban Nature' is the new album from Blaney, a collaborative project masterminded by Salford songwriter and producer Ed Blaney, ably assisted by Mark E Smith of The Fall and Manchester vocalist Jenny Shuttleworth.
Of the ten tracks here, three are Ed Blaney originals, five are Ed Blaney and Mark E Smith co writes, one from Ed Blaney and Jenny Shutleworth and one Ed Blaney, Jenny Shuttleworth and Jim Watts number.
Numerous guest musicians appear across the tracks but the bulk of the playing and singing is covered by Ed Baney, vocals, guitar and effects on all tracks, Mark E Smith vocals on five tracks, Jenny Shuttleworth vocals on two tracks, Bianca Blaney backing vocals and Jim Watts, guitar, bass, keyboards and effects.
Ed Blaney produced the album, with Mark E Smith and Jim Watts having a hand in co-production.
Ed Blaney is a former member of The Fall, playing on their 2001 album 'Are You Missing' and has previously collaborated with Mark E Smith. He is also a leading light in the Salford Music Festival and recognised as a real influence on the contemporary music scene in Manchester.
As most people will know, Mark E Smith is founder member of The Fall and the only permanent member of the band since their inception in 1976. He is prodigiously productive, not only with the band but as a solo performer, writer, poet, actor and social commentator.
It is also safe to say he is known for his somewhat 'scattergun' approach to recording and performing, where the results can sometimes be variable!
'High On You' is a great opener, all swagger lyrics and playing, fuzzy guitar riffs, boomy bass lines, tight drumming and a suitably epic chorus. In feel, it put me in mind of classic, bombastic Oasis from back in the day and is a real welcome to the album.
Second track 'Poison Fishes' also drives along but this time on what sounds like a synth or treated guitar line of the Human League variety. Mark E Smith takes on the vocal duties for this one in his best half spoken, half-sung style and the 'what a waste' refrain is truly infectious.
'Thinking Of You' is more acoustic sounding but none the less busy with its burbling bass line, lovely clattering drums and when the organ comes in on the chorus it conjured up lovely images of a joyously ramshackle Bob Dylan.
The fourth song, 'The Coat' is essentially a great rhythm track. It boasts a tight drum and bass section with some splendid lead guitar lines over which Mark E Smith and Ed Blaney ramble somewhat incoherently about something that is not entirely clear. They swear a lot as well, but I am not sure if this portrays passion for the subject matter in hand or just intoxication. Personally, I find stuff like this a bit irritating and self indulgent, a waste of a great rhythm track.
Back to form on track five though. 'Diamond' chugs in on another distorted guitar riff, crisp, snare crack drumming and a strong vocal from Ed Blaney. His daughter Bianca adds some effective backing vocals on the chorus, which lifts things very effectively. This is a great song and probably my favourite on the CD.
And so it goes through the rest of the album, never settling on a sound, theme or genre but equally never sounding disjointed or contrived. The accompanying promotional material sums things up nicely, describing it as 'A bumpy ride, but packed with musical and lyrical invention'.
Other stands out tracks for me are 'Secrets' and 'Mettle Claw p2'. 'Secrets' features a lead vocal from Jenny Shuttleworth in which she sounds remarkably like Sinead O'Connor and sings beautifully over a very roots, world sounding musical track. However, as a contrast, 'Mettle Claw p2' is all discordant atmospherics, clangy electric guitars, odd sounds and distorted, fragmented vocals. Something of a dark Nick Cave vibe going on here and I wouldn't be surprised to see this one pop up on the sound track in a future episode of 'Peaky Blinders'!
I imagine those who are familiar with Ed Blaney and Mark E Smith would have expected and album like this, full of edgy ideas, twists, turns and great playing interspersed with times when it feels a little unfocussed or wasteful.
However, given chance, I think the music here has a far wider appeal and it would be unwise to dismiss it purely as something localised, in terms of audience, sound or geography.
At its heart, 'Urban Nature' is full of life, energy, fine playing and genuinely great pop songs, all of which is a real testament to Ed Blaney's passion and creativity. I see also that the album is to be toured and if Blaney can capture something of the raw musicality of these recordings live, then chances are it will be something special.
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