The follow up to the much-lauded debut 'Bonnie & Clyde' has been keenly anticipated. However, Fred's House were plunged into something of an existential dilemma when founder member and lead guitarist Lachlan Golder left the band mid tour and mid album in 2015. Rather than fold or rebrand, the band drafted in Alister Bunclark on keyboards and set off again, refreshed and rejuvenated, into new musical territory to finish the album.
As always, the band have continued to gig relentlessly, expanding their existing fan base along the way and last year released two singles in advance of this years full album release.
For the record, the current line up is Griff Jameson on acoustic guitar & vocals, Vikki Gavin vocals, Gafyn Jameson bass & vocals, Paul Richards drums/percussion and Alister Bunclark keyboards. In addition, Lachlan Golder plays guitar on four of the earlier recordings on this album and various other musicians guest on guitar, harmonica and cello. Griff Jameson and Vikki Gavin are responsible for the lion's share of the song writing, except for two tracks where guest musician Chris Bradbury is also credited and one number penned solely by Griff.
Without doubt, the whole vibe of this band is relentlessly positive and optimistic! Not just the songs, recording and sound, but also the whole sense of the group from how this CD is packaged, right through to their vibrant website and social media presence. The sum of the parts adds up to more than a band with Fred's House and they come across as a little community or cottage industry and seem all the stronger for that.
The music on 'Faultlines' shines the brightest of course. Beautifully recorded, produced and mastered, it has a real feel of sunshine and light in which the band's sweet, high voices and harmonies bask. It is hard not to trot out the usual comparisons or reference points of American 70's west coast country, Fleetwood Mac, The Eagles and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young as they just fit so well. However, it's more than that I think, as there is also a great pop sensibility on show here. Shades of Abba on occasions, The Vapors or The Knack in the single 'Ghost Town' and at other times the cinematic, fresh faced excitement of Alan Parkers seminal 'Fame'. There is something theatrical about the way different voices follow the lines in some of the songs and I can just imagine a scene in the film where a student picks out one of these melodies on piano and tentatively tries a first verse before the other students casually join in, pitch perfect!
But, and again this point has been made several times before, despite these obvious reference points and influences, this music does not sound dated or derivative, just very distinctive.
The first track 'Bluebird' is one of two songs, the other being 'California For A Girl', that relate to Lachlan Golders decision to leave the band and stay with his girlfriend in the USA. Both feature the keyboards of Alister Bunclark to the fore, almost 'Doors' like on 'Bluebird' and with a lovely Sunday morning, church organ feel on 'California For A Girl'. These songs really highlight the voice of Vikki Gavin and the bands faultless harmonies and the second one in particular is very strong, seemingly able to celebrate the good fortune of their former band mate and convey a moving sense of loss, but without any trace of bitterness or resentment
The two singles from the album, 'Ghost Town' and 'Shut Up And Dance' are great, commercial sounding pop songs. Both push and pull rhythmically, boast sassy guitar and crisply recorded drums with bass lines that burble away splendidly on top of the mix. As mentioned earlier, all the recordings here are nothing less than excellent, but there is something about these two tracks, particularly the sharp snare 'crack' on the drums, that set them apart a little.
Throughout the twelve songs on this album, the playing is universally splendid and the arrangements always creative, so I think there will be much debate around 'favourite tracks' with so many contenders on show.
Accordingly, I will just pick out another couple of personal favourites to talk a little more about.
'Earthquake' is a piano led ballad with a crystal pure vocal from Vikki that also boasts a wonderfully radio friendly chorus and some lovely Cello from guest musician Anna Scott. Meanwhile, the band quietly builds in intensity towards something of an epic last 30 seconds or so.
'Another Universe' is the last track on the album and a perfect closer. Piano and 12-string guitar bring the song in before Vikki enters with another typically fine vocal. Again, the band builds through the song in very grand fashion but the real stand out for me here is the stunning interplay of Vikki and Griff's voices, together, then alternating and then together again for the songs finale.
If I can make one minor criticism, I think the lyrics might have been a little sharper in some of the songs, particularly given the level of creativity and ability on show here. Perhaps a few too many obvious, fire, higher, wire type rhymes slipped in that jar a little on occasions but, as always, this is down to personal preference and maybe I am just jaundiced by my years of listening to dour Richard Thompson songs!
With the voices so to the fore, it is vital of course that these songs can stand up live. They can. I have never been to a Fred's House gig but listening to various recordings from live shows on YouTube gives a real sense of how tight the band are. Also, whilst the performances of tracks from this album are note perfect in all departments, live they have a slightly rougher edge to them, which adds yet another pleasing dynamic.
Fred's House have every right to be pleased with this CD. They manage both the 'difficult second album' and 'founder member leaving' jinxes with apparent ease and deliver a real statement of intent in 'Faultlines'.
It is inevitable that this collection of clever, commercial tracks, all beautifully presented, played and polished, will lead to further critical acclaim and an ever-burgeoning fan base.
In fact, I think it will be almost impossible to go to a Fred's House gig in 2016 and not come away with a healthy dose of the 'feel good' factor and a copy of 'Faultlines' after hearing these songs played live.
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