Gravel-voiced Scottish singer songwriter John Alexander is back with his second album, Of These Lands. His first album, Rain For Sale, was perfectly described as Dustbowl Blues with a Glasgow Kick, which was also the name of his 2012 show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. To Of These Lands is certainly in the same vein, full of soulful ambience and great storytelling.
The opening track is a good introduction to Alexander's brand of blues and soul. Meet Me Where The River Flows has Jim McDermott on drums and Nicholas Blythe on bass, but it's clear that this Alexander's song, with his rasping lyrics and strong guitar work shining through. As well as McDermott and Blythe, additional musicians include Iona McDonald, Paul Tasker and Kevin McGuire, and they complement Alexander perfectly. McDonald's backing vocals in particular crop up on occasions throughout the album, starting with A Little Daylight, and she really adds another dimension to these songs.
The two highlights of the album both feature in the first half. Used To Be A Friend Of Mine is a wonderful track, highly reminiscent of Nick Drake at times. It's such a simple song, with Alexander unaccompanied, but it has a gentle eloquence to it that really makes it stand out. It is followed by Hold On which has an achingly gorgeous chorus, aided again by McDonald along with McDermott and Blythe.
While these are the strongest tracks, the rest of the album still has moments of real quality. Seven Cold Curses is poetic with an Americana touch, and Hallowed Ground is low key but full of atmosphere with slide guitar work from Tasker that at times feels almost like a second vocal. Overall this is a great listen, and one that will surely be revisited again and again, revealing itself more fully with every play.
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