I do believe that most men live lives of quiet desperation. For despair, optimism is the only practical solution. Hope is practical. Because eliminate that and it’s pretty scary. Hope at least gives you the option of living.
As a reader of many press releases, it’s always interesting to spot the prevailing trends. Right now it’s unquestionably shoe-gaze; any band who’s heard of a reverb pedal gets called shoe-gaze. It’s official that last years psych trend is this years shoe-gaze and if we’ll all happily ignore the fact the records being labelled as such sound pretty much the same then we can all move on with our lives! Soft-rock has been mentioned a few times lately, and the success of The War On Drugs seem to have started a trend of motorik being used for anything that resembles Krautrock: whether it’s actually a motorik beat or not being an irrelevance!
One of the more pleasing and unquestionably odd trends, is the current love of the work of Harry Nilsson. Acts from The Belle Brigade to BC Camplight to Father John Misty are all queueing up to praise the soft-rock luminary, and rightly so. When it comes to grandiose, piano-led ballading they don’t get much greater than Mr Nilsson. He was a man who knew that you could do heart-breaking and humorous on the same album, he knew that sometimes you just had to be ludicrously over the top and flamboyant and brilliant – he is after all the man who gave us the line “I can’t live if living is without you, I can’t live, I can’t give anymore” after all!
Ok, so he’s arguably most famous for putting the lime in the coconut and shaking it all up, but he also did what at this moment in time we consider one of the greatest covers of all time. His version of Everybody’s Talkin’ is just an utterly wonderful thing. Beyond his famous hits there’s a treasure trove of fantastic music, the Nick Drakeish orchestral-folk of Without Her, The geniusly titled Beatles medley You Can’t Do That, or the Sufjan Stevens inspiring god meets banjo stylings of I Guess The Lord Must Be In New York City. Whilst his recent upswing in influence is something of a surprise it’s certainly not undeserved – Harry was pretty special!
Of course sometimes you don’t need to be told someone’s been influenced by someone, sometimes you just hear it yourself!
Well it’s singer-songwriter Ralegh Long obviously, though he’s joined by a cast of collaborators includes Tom Dougall of TOY on guitar, Jack Hayter (ex-Hefner) on pedal steel, string-arranger Louis-Phillipe and the self styled indie-pop Orchestra, A Little Orchestra.
Ralegh’s piano playing and vocal reminiscent of Darren Hayman or Roy Harper are here filled out impressively lush orchestral-folk numbers recalling the likes of Nick Drake and Bert Jansch. Arguably the star of the show is the beautiful pedal-steel which gives the records a soulful edge reminiscent of BJ Cole’s work on Elton John’s Tiny Dancer and Graham Coxon’s album The Kiss Of The Morning.
Ralegh is based in London, but for the writing of the album he attempted to head back to find the countryside of which he wrote, a countryside he describes as a “liminal kind of countryside, pretty rough and suburban, but countryside nonetheless.” Which sounds a bit like the green-belt to us, proving any sort of setting can be romanticised if you look at it in the right light.
Ralegh first appeared back in 2010, working with ex-Pipettes member Rose Elinor Dougall. He’s also collaborated with Darren Hayman and written the soundtrack to BAFTA nominated film Black Pond. For the sake of sticking to the point though, his solo career started with the 2011 EP, Sprawl, followed by another EP in 2012 entitled The Gift. His debut album proper, Hoverance, is out in April on Gare Du Nord Records, a label he runs alongside fellow musicians Robert Rotifer and Ian Button.
There’s something wonderfully timeless about Ralegh’s songwriting, no attempts or cares have been wasted on trying to sound on trend, and it’s really quite refreshing. The song-craft is extraordinary; it feels like a great deal of thought has gone into getting the most out of the songs, with very few wasted notes or ideas. He recalls Randy Newman, Bill Fay and in fact pretty much any solo artist who appears on a best of the Old Grey Whistle Test re-run on BBC4.
If it sounds like it this is just a young man re-hashing an old man’s game, it’s not, because for all the retro-references this is still a new take on the old genre, Ralegh spinning his own world view into a style that’s old but not at all dated. His lyrics, which he claims rather boldly are inspired by 20th century mystic Thomas Merton, are concerned not just with the traditional themes of love and longing but with a sense of being part of the greater mystery that this planet offers. The inspiration of nature is key to these pastoral compositions, and there’s a sense in his writing of someone coming to terms with their place on the planet. It’s really rather impressive, especially when you consider it’s his debut album!
It’s a mighty impressive record, but exactly where it fits into the current musical landscape is a question. The record lacks of the emotional clout that allowed the likes of John Grant, Father John Misty or BC Camplight to explore the history of song-writing whilst still striking a chord with the modern music consumer. That said it’s such a beautiful sounding record that you can easily get lost in it’s textures and wonderful production, and let it just blissfully drift over you. Maybe it’s a record that doesn’t need to fit in, maybe it just stands out as a lone piece of timeless song-writing, there’s no shame in that!
Hoverance is out on Gare Du Nord Records on the 6th of April. Ralegh Long plays The Servant Jazz Quarters in Dalston on April 2nd, followed by a show at Ramsgate Music Hall the following day.