It’s amazing sometimes to think of the people we’ve forgotten. There have been thousands of artists who hit it big for one or two songs, only to fade into oblivion soon after, contributing merely a brushstroke or two to the fabric of pop music history. And as society moves to the next fix, its momentum carrying it to new genres and old genres rediscovered, these people are left behind. Except when they’re not. This is not to say they still aren’t making great music somewhere, but rarely are they ever heard from, and rarely do they ever make new records.
Andy Fairweather Low, the 57 year-old Welshman and former lead singer of Amen Corner, is the exception. He is, for all intents and purposes, a survivor. After tasting early success in the late ‘60s, he made a series of albums in the ‘70s that nobody listened to. After that, he found work as a session musician for Eric Clapton, among others. And now, in the year 2006, he is back with a new effort, Sweet Soulful Music, an album 26 years in the making.
As soon as his warm and soft voice begins the urgent, rockabilly opening track “One More Rocket”, you get a feeling that this isn’t music of this era. This is not to say that the music is old, or outdated, but rather that the mood the album creates isn’t quite modern. There is the timeless, serene feel of music that reaches across decades, of music that is precisely enjoyable because it doesn’t sound like anything new.
“One More Rocket” is an energetic number that starts off the album with a burst of excitement, but the second track, “Hymn 4 My Soul” truly encapsulates the sound of the album. It’s a sweet little song with a charming harmonic chorus. The lyrics are deceptively simple, a yearning love song mixed with questions of self doubt and confusion. When Low sings, “I saw myself today / I didn’t like what I had to say / So right I could only be wrong / Trouble lives around me long” in his subtle, soft voice, you almost miss the sadness of those words. “Ashes and Diamonds” and “Bible Black Starless Sky” are also highlights, containing the perfect mix of Low’s plain yet emotive voice, a minimalist guitar sound, and soulful background singers. “Zazzy” places rebellion in a sea of bouncy joy, and this dichotomy gives the song life.
Low’s songs are difficult to categorize. They aren’t quite folk and they aren’t quite rock. Rather, his music is a timeless sort of pop that is pure and lovely, music that can be enjoyed in any era. Low once told Robert Christgau that he writes “big”, but what comes out doesn’t feel big in the ornate, overbearing sense. Rather, the largesse comes forth in other ways. The songs are small and simple, yet the joy they evoke is truly massive.
// Notes from the Road
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