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Reviews

Simon ScardanelliSimon Scardanelli
Album: Make Us Happy
Label: Resonator
Tracks: 9
Website: http://www.scardanelli.com

I've had a soft spot for Scardanelli ever since, back at the end of the 80s, when I presented a local radio rock show and he, then Simon Tedd, was one half of Anglo-Canadian acoustic duo Big Bam Boo, MCA's proposed answer to The Proclaimers, and they performed a short set for me at the label's London offices.

The duo split in 1991 after the release of the underperforming debut album, and Simon's been pursuing a wide range of interests, musical and otherwise (and including getting a PhD in music composition), ever since. This is his fourth full length solo album (he also has one as The Eye Camera, 1991's cult Death Row Tales, and one with the alt-rock outfit Dr. Scardo) and marks a return to his folksy roots with a "ramshackle ensemble" of accordions, fiddle, cajon, clarinet, soprano sax, guitars, mandolin and turkish cumbus.

It opens with 'Whirlwind', a catchy shantyish number about migrants and people smugglers that bounces along on the back of Annie Kerr's violin and Anja McClusky's accordion, who are then joined by clarinet and cajon for the playful 'Talk About Glory', which feels like Chas n Dave having a knees up in a souk as the armchair macho man tells how, rather than sitting guzzling beer, smoking pop and not watching the evening the news, he fancies the idea of being some five start general or Vladmir Putin sticking it to the UN. It's also probably the only song ever to reference Scottish entrepreneur Duncan Bannatyne.

As you may gather, there's a definite protest/social-comment streak here, also surfacing in the fiddle and accordion ballroom waltzing 'Annual General Meeting' with its call to arms against corporate fat cats while lurching blues 'Hopes In My Pocket' is about underachievers who coulda been contenders if they had had the breaks and not gone to "the school of hopeless causes", the mazurka scampering, sax-peppered 'Make Us Happy' addresses a society tranquilised and controlled by tabs and TV.

Spanish guitar backdrops 'Days That Lie', a anthem about not buying into compromise that closes with the terrific line "I'll never be a willow tree, better to be broken than bend to a crooked line" while , featuring rumbling gypsy guitar, clarinet and harmonium, 'Dagger' is a dark, moody murder ballad with touches of theatrical cabaret (he's also an actor) as, in menacing tones, he threatens " it's either them or me won't see the week out."

Of my two favourites, the first is the simple cascading melody of 'Truth Seems Stranger' ("if things go better with a little bit of hope, you better cut to the chase and pray to your god that they will"), built around ticking percussion, cajon, accordion, glockenspiel and guitar,, The other's 'Sweet Loretta', a country rolling number referencing Loretta Lynn, inspired by, as he recounts in a spoken passage, hitch-hiking from San Diego to Kentucky in 1982 and being picked up in the Arizona desert by a Christian trucker who took him to a diner with characters "straight out of a Coen Brothers movie". He notes that "the highway patrolman told me to take the Bus." I don't know if it's true, but it makes for a great anecdote and a welcome lighthearted moment in an album that generally finds little to smile at in the world.

Mike Davies