Album review: TREVOR SEWELL – Calling Nashville

TREVOR SEWELL – Calling Nashville

Self release [Release date 25.07.17]

Singer songwriter Trevor Sewell knows the value of anchoring a song in a deep groove and with a layered sound to showcase his own gruff voice.

He’s a British singer songwriter who hails from the North East, but is a multiple music award winner in the USA, as well as a 4-time blues award winner in the UK.

More importantly for a songwriter, he’s established a significant niche in Nashville, which has led such high profile guests as Janis Ian, Tracy Nelson and Vickie Carrico to adorn his album.

He’s a singer-songwriter with a Mark Knopfler style conversational phrasing. He wraps his hoarse vocals round some well crafted songs on telling arrangements that always support a song’s meaning.

The album’s title ‘Calling Nashville’ inevitably fits under the Americana umbrella, as it dips into country, blues, jazz and rock and roll. It’s a broad based album that is rooted in the blues and is unafraid to tackle heartfelt and poignant themes in occasional ballads, in which every lyric and deliberately phrased line carries equal weight

Listen for example, to the mid-album ballad ‘Tear It Down’ with its plaintive vocal, emotional pull and reflective feel, delivered over a pedal steel and fiddle accompaniment as part of a yearning melody.

Perhaps the most significant thing about this album is the way he’s turned a limited vocal range into a strength. He places his expressive phrasing at the centre of some subtly layered musical arrangements infused with cool dynamics that explore a counterbalance between accessibility and his songwriting depth.

And while Nashville provides a catch-all focus, he’s unafraid to let his ideas percolate and pull him in sundry directions. The band rocks out on the heavy duty, big band style jump blues of ‘You Ain’t What I’m Looking For’. Sewell adds some big toned guitar mangling alongside some snappy horn stabs, as the band tears things up on a fade that comes too quickly.

It’s ostensibly a long way away from both ‘Tear It Up’ and the fiddle inflected ‘Stand Next To Him’, with its glorious guitar picking and fiddle interplay on a belated song resolution.

The more you dive into this album, the more it reveals on a coherent journey that fits together like a musical jigsaw.

And if the album’s momentum is almost slightly hampered by 4 consecutive contemplative pieces, it’s Sewell’s way of bringing us back to his niche as a guitar playing narrator who presides over heartfelt material.

The album jumps straight into a sharply contrasting gruff vocal and shrill fiddle intro, as part of a call and response gospel style section that leads to some heavy riff-driven funk.

It’s blues Caruthers but not as we know it!

The impressive opener draws us into a song-driven album with a cross pollination of musical styles framed by an essential focus on songcraft.

Sewell’s whispered Knopfler style vocals on ‘Mountain of Gold’ draws us into his lyrics which are supported by feather light bv’s: “We are just ships in the night with no means of navigation,  no chart, no stars, no guiding light. We must learn to trust each other through these troubled times, or sink without a trace beneath the tides.”

Then there’s the mid-tempo highlight ‘Matter Of Time’, which lets his metaphors rise and envelope us, before the band stretches out with gusto. Some sharp sequencing draws us into a duet with Mother Earth’s Tracy Nelson whose unwavering vibrato provides further contrast.

Arguably the album’s outstanding track is a duet with Janis Ian called ‘Fade To Grey’. It’s a gently voiced ballad over subtle brush strokes and is a beautifully evocative piece that is the perfect meeting of contrasting vocals in an object lesson in space and time.

Ian’s uplifting piano line adds a cool dynamic, before Sewell emotes gruffly over a distant walking bass that underscores a perfect equilibrium. The song initially beguiles and then surprises us with Janis Ian’s unexpected scat singing and some lovely ensemble playing on a jazzy end to a cool, cool track.

Sewell’s revels in his ability to convey real emotion through a turn of phrase, a gentle pause or simply a delicate arrangement.

It’s almost as if he’s found his musical soul mate in Janis Ian. And it’s a measure of the strength of the album that the following 8 tracks feel like an integral part of a linear journey, rather than a struggling appendage to a quite memorable song.

Janis Ian also counts in the closing ‘Shadows’, while adding a gently voiced piano line which ushers in another poetic Sewell lyric: The sky was dark, I was afraid, I could not see, so you saw for me, you touched my hand and I was saved, you chased the shadows away.”

‘Shadows’ also makes you wonder why a songwriter of this sensibility doesn’t find room to print his lyrics?

As it is, we hang on to every word he delivers between Ian’s judicious notes, as the duo drift into the ether on a moving finish to an excellent 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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