In late 2016, I was lucky enough to review the debut EP from Various Guises, an alternative folk duo made up of Blanche Ellis and Maya McCourt. Among its many enjoyable features was the endlessly creative production by Tom Hyatt, a musician in his own right, who has now released his own debut record, the seven track Live at Spiritual.
Tom has made something of a name for himself as a compelling solo performer in London's live music scene, in particular as part of Camden's Spiritual Bar community. Not only is this a great venue for live music, but it is also becoming something of a local cottage industry after starting up its own live video channel to promote artists that perform there and in 2015, the Spiritual Records label.
All seven songs here at Tom Hyatt originals and he is joined on stage by Maya McCourt on Cello and Tom Lees, Piano. The live recording was captured by Steve Watson, which was then mixed and mastered by Tom, and Steve.
The City's Sleeping enters gently enough on lovely sliding acoustic guitar chord shapes but gradually winds itself up over the next minute into a driving, heavily percussive rhythm piece before Tom's vocal enters. He has a distinctive, quite high register voice that on propulsive songs like this put me in mind a little of Seth Lakeman. The words scatter out in stream of consciousness fashion and the song rattles through with real energy. With barely a pause, a slower, bluesy type riff introduces the atmospheric Lost in a Dream that brings Tom's voice strongly to the fore. I like how the timing pushes and pulls here and at times Tom just lets his guitar drop out as he sings over the top of fading chords.
These two opening songs effectively run through as one and in under nine minutes cleverly show contrasting sides of Tom's performance.
For me, the next three songs Long Time Coming, Celluloid Dream and Something Inbetween are the heart of the record.
Long Time Coming introduces the listener to Maya McCourt and Tom Lees and their contribution is immense, adding depth and colour to Hyatt's already strong presence. The song rolls along beautifully, instruments weaving in and out of each other seamlessly. It's evident in all the songs but the rhythmic textures here are exceptional, Tom Hyatt's' percussive back beat to his acoustic guitar and Maya McCourt's almost sawing cello are really dynamic.
The cinematic drama of Celluloid Dream makes it the stand out track on the album in my view with its wide screen scope and breadth. I particularly like how Tom's middle voice occupies most of the song giving a real sense of subdued power. In the best way possible, it sounds like something from the score of La La Land and its easy to imagine Rufus Wainwright given it a marvellously epic going over! Without doubt, this is simply a great song by anyone's standards.
Something Inbetween completes this little trio in joyous fashion, full again of perfect ensemble playing with Tom Lees's piano really catching my ears with his lovely trills, fills and runs filling the spaces.
Bringing the album to a close, City in the Clouds is another of what Tom refers to as his 'post card songs' slow, dreamy and full of imagery before the relentless Free Falling is a further rhythmic workout that ends things in breathless fashion.
At seven tracks, this record sits comfortably between an EP and full album and serves as a perfect introduction to the work of Tom Hyatt. The songs are strong, his voice is distinctive and the collective playing is outstanding. The live recording works very well and along with Steve Watson, this album is another showcase for Tom's mixing and production skills. As in his work with Various Guises, the tone, balance and separation captured between instruments are stunning.
I liked Live at Spiritual a lot and look forward to the promise of a full studio recorded album with the hope that at least one or two of the songs found here get another outing on that record!
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