Pete Feenstra chatted to John Illsley about his new album and his influences in a one-hour special broadcast on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio on Sunday 24 April. This is repeated on Thursday 28 April at 23:00 GMT. In this exclusive interview edit Pete sets the scene testing his assumptions about the new album. (9:15)
Creek [Release date 13.05.16]
‘Long Shadows’ is John Illsley’s sixth album of a stop-start solo career that received a notable boost from his last studio album, the aptly titled ‘Testing The Water’.
If the latter sounded like a marketing tool to find out the public’s appetite for another post Dire Straits album from the band’s former bass player, then the critical response was positive enough to suggest he’s on the right path.
‘Testing The Water’ illustrated his growing confidence as a song writer and ‘Long Shadows’ feels like of confirmation and celebration of his nascent style.
Illsley’s niche is born of his acknowledged contribution to Dire Straits material – from significant arrangements to the overall feel and sound – while his solo material leans significantly on a J.J. Cale vibe, full of whispered close-to-the-mic vocals, subtle band interplay and an essential use dynamics.
He opens with a sonorous piano and string led instrumental piece ‘Morning’, which isn’t so much a thematic introduction as a barometer of the album’s emotive feel.
He’s a melodic roots rocker who has obviously learned much from his former boss Mark Knopfler in terms of the value of phrasing with time and space, as well the importance of the pacing and sequencing of an album as a whole.
The track ‘Long Shadow’ combines many of the salient elements in his musical armoury to provide the album with a notable lift. He draws on an old school, album formatted musical vision to explore an essential flow and lever the listener into some deep grooves, nuanced guitar parts and subtle chord changes, that somehow feel an essential part of the song.
‘In The Darkness’ provides him with the early centrepiece of the album. A combination of his strongest hook with some poignant lyrics that search for hope in a depressing scenario of internet led fanatics, give the song real substance:
“He was looking for a reason, maybe searching for a dream, decided to get involved with the forces in between. As his finger did the taking to a faceless entity, promises of endless pleasure and the road to ecstasy. In the darkness let the light shine through.”
He further punctuates the message with some nuanced bv’s and a gospel finish wholly in keeping with the overall feel of an album that envelops you with repeated plays.
He’s happiest when sculpting the bottom end of a groove and then adding his whispered vocal to evocative lyrics. Not everything works in the same way though, as the atmospheric ‘There’s Something About You’ is the triumph of feel and presence over lyrical substance, while the J.J. Cale style shuffle ‘Lay Me Down’ is all subtle brush strokes, Robbie McIntosh’s delicate slide and feels like an audio equivalent of Illsley’s other passion of layered paint strokes.
The album ebbs and flows with a laid back, late night vibe full of aching vocals, crisps tic-toc rhythms and ethereal guitar tones that have a reassuring familiar feel.
By the time he signs off with ‘Close To the Edge’, he’s back in that dreamy Straits feel over which gently mugs us with a classic line: “You can’t get angry with the angels, ‘cos they’re so difficult to find, there’s a cloud we call heaven, watch your credit cards declined”.
‘Long Shadows’ reaffirms John Illsley’s role as an observational lyricist and story teller, whose subtle arrangements and expressive vocals help shape an enjoyable and very accessible album. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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