"This isn't the album I set out to make!", says Paul McClure of his latest album release 'Songs For Anyone'. "It's not the album I thought I'd have the opportunity to make this time around. It is however one that I'm very excited to be putting out to the world". And the Rutland troubadour, who has often been described as one of the bedrocks of the UK Alternative Country, Folk and Americana scene, can be justifiably proud of his 'difficult second debut', as it's an album that transports the listener through a chameleon-like pantheon of songs that delight and often surprise at every twist and turn.
"The album", as McClure himself says "Is about love, trying to get it, trying to keep it, trying to understand it, and just getting on with it - all things I'm terrible at. And of course love of music. Which came first - the heartache or the music?". Opener 'Don't Take Me Under' typifies this approach. It's heart-on-the sleeve sentiments are bought beautifully to life with a simmering arrangement that builds on the waltz-like time signature, beginning simply with acoustic guitar and heartbreak voice in perfect unison, culminating in an all-in cry your heart out plea from tender yet aching pedal steel.
Remarkably, 'Songs For Anyone' was put together during just 6 sessions, which meant that there wasn't time to overthink it. And that is borne out by the earthy, organic feel of this collection of songs. At times it shows a glimpse of Neil Young-esque raggedness which is always a good sign ('Everyday Is Mine To Spend'), but then it'll throw a complete curve ball at you in the form of 'Lady Flossington' and it's ukulele whimsy. It's a neat trick that works very well indeed in the context of this album. McClure adopts an admirable leaning towards unpredictability in terms of his songwriting, yet that unpredictability does not detract from the quality of songs that flow from his pen. Here is an astute artist at work, make no mistake.
'Holding A Ten Ton Load' feels like a familiar road-worn friend with it's shuffling harmonica driven beat. McClure's honest voice is given extra clarity with the inclusion of some lovely harmonies from Hannah Elton-Wall. Think Dylan with The Faces as his backing band and you'll be in the ball-park.
Title track 'A Song For Anyone' captures the essence of this release perfectly. A rambling country ballad (all six minutes of it!) that draws the listener into a McClure-skewed world. Dream-like in it's ambience and Floyd-like in chord structure, it's a song that conjures up a thousand images from happiness to despair and all the way back again. The subtle use of lap steel and Hammond organ (style) together is a particular aural delight and highlights a songwriter not afraid to push at the boundaries of the genre.
McClure is spot-on when he states "I imagine most songwriters, most artists, are in a way creating an autobiography of their lives through their work. So if my album is a chapter of my life then I think this one is an honest read". Honest it is. Revealing it is also. But musically it is undoubtedly an essential listen. Enjoy the peaks and troughs and the triumphs and defeats of a songwriter who is unashamedly at the top of his game…with the promise of more to come.
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