Highlights: Grateful, Dearly Departed, High & Lonesome, Lady Of The Lager
A mere month ago I was gushing all over The Bitter Springs’ new album, and here I go again; Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is the second LP by that band’s Phil Martin. Basically, it is Everyone’s Cup Of Tea part three, in which the upbeat nature of disc one is successfully merged with the more moody sounds of disc two to create something equally charming, witty and eccentric. The sort of combination The Bitter Springs have mastered so well.
Perhaps the first thing that hits you when listening to Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is how diverse the whole thing is. The rough-edged melodicism of the upbeat and anthemic “Grateful” is rooted in punk, but for an album that goes over an hour this is just a start. Quite effortlessly, the record moves from funky to jazzy to music-hallish to god knows what else. The good thing is that it rarely sounds patchy or all over the place – for all the impressive style-hopping, I still hear a very focused and tight album, which obviously underscores the quality of the songwriter we are dealing with here. The instrumentation is also impressive and varied – with saxes, violins, electric and acoustic guitars, harmonicas, pianos and even, quite inexplicably, some tap-dance (? – in the wistfully catchy “Dearly Departed”) all coming into play when play they must.
While I still can’t put my finger on a few songs here (“Frontline” is lovely but underwhelming), all is forgotten when I hear something as amazing as the beautiful, soulful six-minute epic “High & Lonesome” that in all honesty beats anything the softer side of Everyone’s Cup Of Tea had to offer. The prize for the most confusing track of the album has to go to the bizarre “Lady Of The Lager” which has that hypnotic groove you could hear on Brian Eno’s brilliant Taking Tiger Mountain (By Strategy). In fact, I can easily imagine the 70’s Eno singing this one.
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark is an extremely addictive album, one that is probably destined to be criminally overlooked. Which, if anything, should make your listening to it even more special than it already is.