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Lew Thomas Lew Thomas
Album: Walks, Talks & Fallouts
Label: Self Released
Tracks: 10

Ok, first things first. The sleeve photos do the trio no favours, indeed the back sleeve has them all looking in different directions as if they've been superimposed on the fence backdrop from different individual shots. They look like they don't know one another, the same being truie of the back photo on the booklet, while the front, featuring just Lew has him standing in front of a bale of hay that suggests some sort of hick country image. I'm sure the photographer's mate, but they need to get someone with a better eye and, probably, have a word with a stylist.

Fortunately, the music is far more striking, Hailing from Derby, they play melodic alt-country with an authentic air, Thomas, who writes the material and plays guitar and piano, having an attractive reedy warble and a strong sense of melody and the power of a catchy chorus. Their country cred is further enhanced by the presence of Sarah Jory who contributes pedal steel to several tracks, the band (Tom Mason on drums and bassist James Stone) also augmented by Jack Blackman on slide, electric guitar and banjo with Flo Taylor duetting on soaring ballad "Remember Me", a number that fully deserves to do the Nashville rounds.

The album's a mix of uptempo and ballad material, the former getting things underway with the the Bon Jovi-like power chord opening of "Set You Free", a track that immediately lets you know they're far from the British social club country band the cover suggests. This is swiftly reinforced by the first country-stadium ballad, "First Kiss To The Last", a number that, at times, evokes the early Eagles. The tempo's picked up again, Jory and Blackman providing the backbone on "One Last Dance" with its barstool and bottle of Jack, before "Nothing To Lose" ("Got a beer in my left hand, your hip in my right") lifts an already rock solid album to another level, a match for anything the likes of new bucks such as Blake Shelton, Sturgill Simpson and Brett Young have released of late.

I'm less taken with the urgent, funky rhythm and breathlessly sung with "Sugar", but they recover from the stumble with the Desperado-era feel of piano ballad "Where We Belonged" and the bluegrass-influenced strummed stomp "Fake A Smile", the album ending with the faith-themed "The Cure", the piano intro giving way to driving drums and a squalling guitar climax.

It may be stronger in the early going, with, "Remember Me" aside, the high standard dipping a little at the back end, but, even so, it's a hugely impressive debut and, when it hits the heights it's as good as anything on the Billboard country charts.

Mike Davies