A Favoured Side-Man Effortlessly Moves Into The Spotlight.
Even though this album isn’t released until later in the week; I appear to be ‘late to the party;’ as all of the cool kids and influencers in our little world have been going absolutely bonkers for this debut release from *Son of Northumbria (Whitley Bay to be precise), KB Bayley in the last few weeks.
To some greater or lesser extent; not knowing what to actually expect, the atmospheric Dobro and sleazy slide guitar intro to track #1 Cold Rain; probably led me to expect something of a Bluesy number; but no…. no …and indeed no; KB is a lot of things; and much of it may even be influenced by Americana; but a Blues Singer he ain’t.
Or is he?
When you hear his weather worn, yet velvety voice pouring his heart out about a lost love while standing in the Cold Rain ‘waiting on a slow train, coming down the line,’ who’s to argue that a pasty white boy can’t sing the Blues?
Not me; that’s for sure.
First and foremost this is a Singer-Songwriter album with an intrinsically British slant to it, somewhere in the grand tradition of Ralph McTell and more recently Chris Difford and Ben Glover (who adds backing vocals to one song here).
Most every song is so full of minutiae and intimate detail; it’s like listening to 4 minute kitchen sink drama on the radio, played out to a silvery intricate musical backdrop.
You’d never believe that these songs were recorded at home on second-hand equipment; but that somehow adds to the pathos in Throw It In The River and North Shore Road with Bayley’s exquisite finger-picked guitar playing sounding like it’s your heart strings that are being plucked at the same time as a mournful harmonica gently cuts through like a winter breeze.
I need to jump back to track #2, the titular Little Thunderstorms because I was listening to another track a few minutes ago and just felt the urge to go back and listen more intently, to this darkly poeric and almost Gothic Folk song. I was correct; Bayley’s storytelling really does raise the bar for his peers out there; gently leading us towards an approaching cliché; then KERPOW – he hits us with lines and observations that bely his tender years.
This happens again and again; with Time to Leave Town and Cray About Me being prime examples; lines springing to mind when I least expected it over the last week or so.
Bayley includes a striking and powerful instrumental towards the end; Wayfaring Stranger (Redux) ….. part Ry Cooder, part Welsh Celtic and a nod in the direction of the Northumbrian Hills combine to create a piece of music that just begs for a wise Film Director to use it in a Murder Mystery set in some dark hinterland.
There’s a delightful starkness about this recording; which obviously comes from the claustrophobic conditions imposed by Lockdowns I through III; but don’t think that this is a one man band; it’s not. Although Bayley plays numerous instruments, other musicians have added their very own golden musical threads at a later date, bringing an added texture and occasional warmth to everything here; so thanks must got to Backing vocals from Claudia Stark and Jim Cozens: pedal steel from Charlie Jonas Walter (of bluegrass duo Jonas and Jane), electric guitar from Backwoods Creek’s Dean Parker, and chorus vocals on ‘Blood Red Lullaby’ by Proper Records artist Ben Glover.
That latter song; Blood Red Lullaby starts with an AM radio announcer then bleeds into a really tightly constructed bittersweet song about how memories; be it on a global scale like those we have for JFK but more pertinently, family and friends taken too soon, effect us in more ways than are always inherently obvious at the time.
For my Favourite Track it has been a bit of a conundrum; as the David Olney film Noir influenced (?) Night Dogs stands out like a raw, bloodied sore thumb and will live with me for years to come.
But; me being a sucker for a Love Song, I’ve been drawn back to North Coast Girl several times, as I am a Northern Boy married to a North Coast Girl; and Bayley’s cold and haunting tale is right up there with the very best of its genre. Is it about a Lover, a Mother or a Fantasy Figure?
It’s not clear and therefore will make you want to draw your own conclusion ….. then change your mind ten times in ten minutes.
I suppose someone much wiser than me will know who Cheap Suit is about; but I don’t …… (is he the Father to the Mother of North Coast Girl?) but this tragic tale is so excruciatingly extraordinary and Bayley’s use of the soft vibrato in his own voice, alongside some carefully selected instrumentation; beautifully captured for posterity, is quite easily my Favourite Song here by a million miles.
I have very little background information about KB Bayley; save he’s been a side-man to some of my favourite singer-songwriters over the years; but with this release I think those days are over ……. the spotlight surely beckons for a talent that has lain hidden for far too long.
*Son of Northumbria …… while he moved down South as a child and has spent a lot of time on the windswept Norfolk Coast; I’m still claiming him as ‘one of ours‘!!!
Released February 26th 2021
BUY DON’T SPOTIFY