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JAMES GRANT Strange Flowers Vertical (2009)

James Grant

It has been nearly five years since Grant's last offering 'Holy Love' - a continuation of the solo style that Grant has worked up since he broke away from Love And Money in the early 1990s and for some a tad too broody in places with a rootsy feel well removed from his "pop" heyday.

Whilst this analysis overly simplifies, there is no doubt that James Grant is a Messiah to his devoted flock but could be heavy going for the faint at heart. However once the listener eases into the groove and the frequently enigmatic lyric, the world suddenly becomes a more intriguing place.

To some he may appear the forlorn performer who experienced the excesses of a big label budget in the eighties. There is no doubt in my mind that Grant is one of the finest singer songwriters of his generation and terribly honest about his predicament and place in the current world of music.

The new album opens with the glorious, orchestrated "This Could Be The Day" - a classic slice of pop that must rank high amongst his more irresistibly catchy output.

'Darkstar' is again upbeat with a devilishly infectious swamp beat and harmony vocals from Monica Queen and Karen Matheson along with deft use of electric guitar (yes, electric!) to punctuate the rhythm.

'Strange Flowers' has jazzy inflections and invokes the spectre of L&M whilst 'The Hallowing Touch' is closer to his more familiar post L&M output with gospel flavours, again enhanced by Monica and Karen's backing vocals and Donald Shaw's piano figures.

The axis of the album is the nine-minute epic 'My Father's Coat'. James was kind to send us this track several weeks ago as an exclusive for the radio channel and it is a standout.

With a moody backdrop punctuated by long-term collaborator Fraser Spier's harmonica interjections and a  Neil Young-esque guitar workout at the end. The lyric is equally compelling: Grant buys his father's coat he sees hanging in a marketplace and the memories that evokes:

What a day
What a day
But a day like any other
I thought I'd seen the back of him
And I smell like some bad joke
That the rains invoked
Some wall-eyed dream of brilliantine and whisky and nicotine
In the culverts and the crags run both
The disease and the antidote
As I turn the key in my fathers coat

"The Bay At the Nape Of Your Neck" complements 'Darkstar' with its infectious beat and country inflections - a sort of grown up 'Ode To Billie Joe' for the modern age.

'Lake Louise' rolls on in a 'Maggie May' sort of way and could roll on to prime-time BBC Radio 2 too.

'Is This The Kiss' has the requisite amount of drama. This could be Scott Walker's Bond Theme c.1968. Wonderful vibe, and I'm not sure if James was serious when he told me he offered the song to Shirley Bassey. Whatever, her loss.

The album culminates in the insistently funky (and autobiographical) 'Can't Beat The Music' - it's almost like Grant has reconciled himself to the glorious funky undertow evident in early Love And Money.

I kicked against the pricks
Chased my tail
My preoccupation
Note #3 in the scale
Iíve been a slave, a slave of a kind
But freedom is a state of mind
It's a state of mind

By way of contrast, 'Scarecrow Song'  offers a more traditional Celtic ballad, as if to bring us back to reality, whilst the short 'Catherine Burns' sends the album out in a blaze of strings.

It would be easy to say that this is one of the best James Grant solo albums, and it surely is, but never underestimating all that has gone before because each of those albums has inner strengths. But there is a roundedness in this album, perhaps a realisation too from Grant that he needs to take the beat up a little.

And with albums increasingly pared down to just voice and guitar he has dared to rekindle his electric soul.

"You break the cycle of doubt and fear", a line from the opener "This Could Be The Day" could be as much about his loyal fanbase as anything else. The hardcore will be delighted with 'Strange Flowers' and the undecided may find an altogether more satisfying bouquet.


Review by David Randall

Best of 2009

Buy this CD

Feature - 2008

Gig review and interview - 2007

Feature - Love And Money

10 Questions

Artist website

James Grant was Featured Artist on GRTR! Radio in September 2008 and is a regular inclusion in the afternoon sequence, (14.00 - 16.00 GMT Mon-Fri)

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***** Out of this world | **** Pretty damn fine |
*** OK, approach with caution unless you are a fan |
** Instant bargain bin fodder | * Ugly. Just ugly

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