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Will Varley Will Varley
Album: Kingsdown Sundown
Label: Xtra Mile
Tracks: 11

Will Varley - the epitome of a travelling troubadour. When he's not on Shank's pony between gigs he's one who can be seen travelling the roads with The Levellers, Frank Turner, Skinny Lister and The Proclaimers. He travels his own course too - my first encounter was in the back room of a community pub in Hebden Bridge, having a chat as he did running repairs on his guitar and self-consciously sold his CDs (" a tenner each or thereabouts")

Suddenly into his fourth album and what he's called "the most honest songs I've ever written and they represent new ground for me creatively. They may not be radio friendly, or even 'friendly' at all, but I've been wanting to make a record like this for a long time." And he's spot on in a collection which takes a trun into a direction which is more considered and sombre. The lo fi nature brings to mind - and apologies for digging up a hackneyed old phrase - an early Dylan with shades of Leonard Cohen. Why? Just that there's a darker feel to the album and the fact that the guitar does little more than provide an understated rhythm and canvas on which Will spreads his vocal, his voice, his message. The Smugglers Record collective philosophy - recording in a cellar under a pub by the sea - adds authenticity to the raw sound which is a perfect accompaniment for a set where the lyrics cut deeply and unashamedly generate a feeling of foreboding. Not just a darkness but an unease - how squabbles in KFC escalate into full blown wars - an indictment of society and what the human race has become.

Complex problems, simple solutions is a phrase that springs to mind and it's a bleak vision which is almost resigned to the fact that we exist on a unstable foundation where an idealism is just that. Reality kicks in with 'When She Wakes Up' is the Dylan moment when his quivering voice delivers a bleak vision of broken spirits - think 'Gates Of Eden' meeting 'Hollis Brown' -a more skilled and deft guitar line tumbles forth and all sorts of phrases abound…pools of blood on the pavement…rats beneath the floorboards…the morning making its kill… all coming together to make a mini Varley masterpiece. 'We Want Our Planet Back' is a more simple Lennon style soliloquy as he plays with rhymes while bemoaning the demise of the planet. More transparent in its message and packed with clever little couplets he even allows himself the luxury of a few rudimentary electric guitar chords to back his point.

Despite some vestiges of hope, 'Kingsdown Sundown' is ultimately an album which is saturated with a stoic sadness and world weariness. It's a record where Will Varley seems to have shifted from apprentice to master of his craft and where the days of the self checkout shuffle, his glib irony and flippant side seem a world away.

Mike Ainscoe