Self release [Release date: 11.11.16]
The Irish-Australian duo of Hat Fitz and Cara stand out among their contemporaries because of their hill country grooves, their bluesy minimalism, some well crafted folky songs, occasional great hooks and an essential contrasting dynamic between Cara’s uplifting vocals and Hat Fitz’s more gruff undertow.
And while ‘After The Rain’ suggests a long term optimistic view of things, the notion of a climactic circularity might be extended to their layered musical approach, which sometimes bubbles up different nuances in the same song.
Producer Govinda Doyle is a central figure here, who cleverly combines vintage sounds with a contemporary feel while leaving plenty of space for the vocals to cut through, the instruments to shine and the grooves to percolate.
‘After The Rain’ is an album I’ve featured many occasions on my radio playlist and then I inadvertently forgot to review it. Perhaps it was the sense of familiarity and the fact that when you dip in to one of the duo’s albums, it’s like welcoming old friends in pursuit of new ideas.
Despite the enduring building blocks of folk and blues, Hat Fitz and Cara are almost unique. Their music has an adventurous restlessness and yet they’ve been in tandem long enough to forge their own style.
And while the lyrics are everything, the combination of the duo’s vocal styles and subtle musical textures make ‘After The Rain’ that bit different.
Nothing is forced, indeed there’s an almost ragged, laid back style at times that is snapped back to purpose by Cara’s eloquent phrasing.
The opening ‘Going Home’ suckers us in with a familiar guitar line from Peter Green’s ‘Albatross’ but Cara’s pristine diction, deep timbre and nuanced phrasing takes the song to another place. There’s a lovely use of space, time and tonal depth, as she adds an illustrative but eclectic narrative: “There’s a red brick stands before me, the blood and sands of our history, each black taxi stays on the right side, sharing a story of their own divide.”
‘After The Rain’ is an album that celebrates diverse, but musically related influences. It also emphasizes the value the duo place on their independence. They closely shield their musical integrity from a business that ruthlessly adheres to genres.
Sure, there’s blues, country, folk and even grungy elements locked together by array of guitar tones and percussive patterns that facilitate the mood and feel of a song, but they are driven by a refreshing a spontaneity that gives the album unexpected delight.
Listen for example, to the languid stuttering opening of the Spartan blues of ‘Try’. It strikes a perfect balance between Hatfitz’s sub-metal, waltz-time guitar intro and Cara’s plaintive vocal, before the two gloriously coalesce on a huge chorus.
Cara adds an in impressive Aretha Franklin yelp before we’re back in the groove. It’s the perfect meeting of live in the studio edge and glistening harmonies, all delivered with real gusto. There’s still time for an unexpected coda as a pregnant pause gives way to a tension breaking gospel fired resolution.
It’s a great example of how they take a leap of faith, safe in the knowledge they will nail the gospel finish with plenty to spare.
‘Doing It Again’ makes great use of a sludgy rhythm and Hat Fitz’s mandolin, as the duo weave their intricate way round a languid arrangement that is far more complex than its accessibility initially suggests.
‘After The Rain’ is an album in the old fashioned sense of the word, as it undulates and unfolds while pursuing a linear path. Sometimes it takes the scenic route, as Hat Fitz wraps his husky tones round the jump feel of ‘Tank Man’. The combination of Cara’s shuffle drum pattern, tom-toms and exuberant cymbal splashes are offset by Hat Fitz’s slide on a track that is musically shot through with a sense of urgency
There’s a similar brusque feel to the Hat Fitz’s muscular guitar figure on ‘Running Man’, on a smouldering, slow building track that glues everything else together.
The tension building piece doesn’t actually resolve itself, but settles for being a big groove with colourful lyrics, while the perfunctory ending is indicative of the duo’s style. When they feel they’ve said enough, they simply call a halt. It’s a great dynamic device that always keeps the listener wanting more.
The quiet drop-down for ‘Rosie Hackett’ illustrates the album’s subtle flow, and features one of Cara’s most emotive vocals. The beautiful use of space and guitar tones provides the perfect foil for the purity of her voice on another album highlight.
‘After The Rain’ is a musical journey that reveals more with each play. Listen for example, to the way the duo beautifully coalesce on the celebratory banjo-led duet ‘Keep n’ On’. The subliminal jump blues feel is given extra potency by another one of Cara’s shuffles, before the song comes to rest on a gentle fade.
This CD is the aural equivalent of a painting. It draws us into a world where lyrical weight is given full expression by Cara’s beautiful voice and Hat Fitz’s earthy undertow, with plenty of musical diversity.
‘After The Rain’, beguiles, surprises, energises and raises the spirit, and to borrow some rock an roll parlance, it kicks ass. ****
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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