Steve Adey – ‘All Things Real’ – a personal highlight
As a long time Blue Nile fan, and in particular their wonderful, evocative, rain-swept masterpiece that is ‘Hats’, their later recordings were something of a disappointment as Paul Buchanan moved towards an almost cabaret style of pared down and rather drab songs seeming to rely on past glories. Their earlier recordings told micro-stories of moving ordinariness of wet, dreary Glasgow streets and city life in winter with characters struggling against day to day life.
One the best pieces of music bar none to listen to whilst driving along a city street, in the dark, in the rain is ‘Headlights on the Parade’ – I could quite simply have this on repeat for hours on end it’s that good.
‘The Downtown Lights’ is a must-listen with the stunning semi-spoken section driven along by the synths and electro-drum beats a real highlight:
The neon’s and the cigarettes
Rented rooms and rented cars
The crowded streets, the empty bars
Chimney tops and trumpets
The golden lights, the loving prayers
The colored shoes, the empty trains
I’m tired of crying on the stairs
The downtown lights
What made me notice Steve Adey’s magnificent album several years ago was the producer – none other than Calum Malcolm who mastered the Blue Nile albums. I’m a bit of a sucker for good production and have often followed the producer rather than the artist. Daniel Lanois being a good example as I remember the fantastic sound of the Joshua Tree by U2 which he produced. He then added the same magic to Emmylou Harris’ ‘The Wrecking Ball’ which led me onto his own albums and a brief sojourn with Creole music. The way music trails twist and turn and take you down, sometimes blind, alleys never ceases to amaze me.
The other startling thing about ‘All Things Real’ is the similarity to the Blue Nile sound, not surprising considering the producer, and in particular the vocals. Steve Adey’s voice has the same timbre as Paul Buchanans but also has a deeper warmth – both sharing the same knack for extracting every ounce of emotion from each note.
‘All Things Real’ is a beautifully produced piece of work. The sound is very ‘close up’, you can hear fingers scrape on guitar strings, you can hear the air in the harmonium, you can hear breathing between words – you can almost hear the creak of wood in the chairs as the musicians shuffle around whilst recording.
The album has a very organic feel as though it was laid down with only a few takes, if not just one take in some cases, and it resonates with a sombre, seriousness that to some ears could come across as maudlin. To my ears it is beautiful, deep and rewarding.
There are elements of Talk Talk in the hushed drama and great swathes of the Blue Nile in the vocals and production qualities. But the overall feeling is of high quality, structured songs put together with absolute love and care.
Take the two cover versions that bestride this album – ‘I See a Darkness’ and ‘Shelter From the Storm’. Adey does not just play it by the book, he strips these two classics down, re-builds them and makes them entirely his own.
Dylans ‘Shelter From the Storm’ takes on epic proportions as Adey slows it down to an almost funereal pace with each verse adding extra layers as the drama of the song unfolds – at one point you can sense him almost spitting out the words in barely controlled emotion. This is a stunning track.
A re-working of Will Oldham’s ‘I See a Darkness’ is no less stunning and is my personal favourite on the album – a brooding, dark masterpiece that is quite frankly a huge improvement on the original and also on the Johnny Cash version. This is a sweeping and emotional tour-de-force and being the second track on the album makes you wonder how it can go on. The power is quite intense as he sings …..
We’ve been out drinking
Many times we’ve shared our thoughts
But did you ever, ever notice
The kind of thoughts I had
Well go on it does – there is not a weak track. There is a rolling version of a sea-shanty with ‘The Lost Boat Song’ which carries on the mournful feel throughout the album and there are also very intense moments of simple personal feelings, ‘Tonight’ being a good example.
This very silent night
I give it all to you
I render it to you
Through love and war and hate
And tomorrow I must fight
Amazed and bleeding child
I send my love to you
This is one of those albums I find hard to categorise when someone says ‘what type of music is it ?’. In many respects it is folk, with the same home-spun vibe as, say, King Creole & Jon Hopkins’ ‘Diamond Mine’. In other respects it has the sweeping panorama of earlier Blue Nile which is definitely not folk.
The best thing is to simply recommend it and let you, the listener, decide which, if any category it sits.
I hope you are rewarded as much as I have been over the last six years.