Fronted by singer and guitarist Richard Olson, The Hanging Stars are something of a collective and revolving cast. Richard is joined regularly by a rhythm section consisting of bassist Sam Ferman and excellent named drummer, Paul Cobra. Their latest album also features contributions from Dan Michaelson & The Coastguards member Horse on slide-guitar, banjo and other stringed instruments from Patrick Ralla and keyboards from Phil Anderson.
The Hanging Stars biography may label them pysch-folk, but it’s closer in reality to the sun-drenched, Laurel-Canyon sound of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young or The Byrds. The album is resplendent with pedal-steel, jangling electric guitars, rolling bass-runs and fluttering, atmospheric drums, all sitting beneath some of the sweetest harmonies this side of the 1960’s.
Although the bands fascination with all this Americana drove the band to record the album in locations as diverse as Los Angeles, Nashville and Walthamstow, it is the latter that The Hanging Stars call home. Walthamstow was originally a town in the historic county of Essex, but London’s suburban growth quickly swallowed the town, and it became part of Greater London in 1965. Walthamstow’s “village” area has recently become rather trendy, boasting a very fancy Spa Shop, and a lot of pushchairs. Competing for the title of Walthamstow’s most famous son are the contrasting figures of textile designer, poet, novelist, translator, and socialist activist William Morris, and East 17/E17 member, who ran himself over after gorging on Jacket Potatoes, Brian Harvey. As well as Brian, various musicians have called The Stow home, including Dave Clark 5 saxophonist Denis Payton, original Iron Maiden vocalist Paul Di’Anno and rapper Lethal Bizzle; a super-group we would be intrigued to hear the sound of.
The Hanging Stars released a pair of singles, Golden Vanity and The House On The Hill, last year through The Great Pop Supplement. Following on from those they have just released their debut album, Over The Silvery Lake, a joint release between The Great Pop Supplement and Crimson Crow.
The Hanging Stars have spoken of wanting this record to have the sound of, “both the sand and the rain” and it’s a goal for the most part they achieve. Whilst certainly their influences are more California desert than Walthamstow grit, there’s enough of their London lifestyle creeping in from the sides to keep this short of a pastiche.
Opening track Floodbound sets up the bands style early, and they largely stick to the same template; finger picked guitars and gentle licks of slide-guitar create a gorgeous atmosphere while the vocals are exquisitely tight, recalling their fellow London-revivalists Gold Heart Assembly. It’s expertly written and produced to give the instruments room to be expressive, the spacy organ that washes over the outro adding some pleasant psych-textures.
Elsewhere, I’m No Good Without You introduces a defiantly-retro harmonica sound that’s pure Dylan, For A While strips things back with a touch of Eels at their most nostalgic, and the strutting peacock of a song that is The House On The Hill has a slight Spaghetti-Western feel. Best of all is the closing track, Running Waters Wide, the organ intro, with a whiff of Tears For Fears, is splendid, whilst the piano playing is frankly gorgeous and the vocal harmonies are just perfection. It’s a record that’s beautifully crafted, produced and drenched in a warming nostalgia.
The record is probably three of four tracks too long; cutting the jaunty but bland Ruby Red, the honky-tonk She Never Sleeps and the too retro for its own good Cure Your Ills, would result in a more compact and impactful album. On top of that the lyrics are probably best ignored, going from the cliched, “I confess I’m a mess over you”, to the down-right clunky, “I’m not afraid to die, maybe a little shy.” That said, Over The Silvery Lake is a beautifully crafted record, and it’s hard to be anything but impressed by the quality of the musicians performing it.
Over The Silvery Lake is out March 11th via The Great Pop Supplement/Crimson Crow. Click HERE for all upcoming The Hanging Stars shows.