White Knight [Release date 08.08.19]
The Kentish Spires debut – The Last Harvest – released just 12 months ago only narrowly missed out, to Laura Meade, as my album of 2018, so the band’s ‘quick fire’ turnaround with their follow-up was, for me, an eagerly awaited release.
But there were some ‘difficult/tricky second album syndrome’ warning signs.
Firstly, a deliberate shift to a slightly different writing style with the band opting for spontaneity over gestated refinement, and perhaps more significantly the loss of Paul Hornsby, whose omnipresent soprano, alto and tenor sax, bass clarinet, flute and recorders were so central to The Last Harvest.
So, recorded over 40 straight days and with anything that didn’t work quickly being discarded and with two new players in the line-up – seasoned jazz player Chris Egan on sax, and all things wind, and permanent drummer James Hall making his debut album recording – what of Sprezzatura?
Well, opening with three short numbers – ‘Overture’, ‘Sea Shanty’ and ‘Don’t Shoot The Albatross’ – loosely brigaded as ‘Knots’, the all too brief proggy instrumental ‘Overture’ sees Egan fitting in seamlessly, ‘Sea Shanty’ – given the title, a perhaps not unsurprisingly ‘folky’ number, wallows a little languidly in shallow waters, and ‘Don’t Shoot The Albatross’ – a jaunty, playful, largely instrumental piece, is not untypical of the quirky ‘story telling’ style that routinely divides opinion in Pete Jones’ Tiger Moth Tales.
‘Horsa From Beyond The Grave’ provides a welcome link – both musically and lyrically – back to ‘Kingdom Of Kent’ on the band’s debut – a lament by King Hengist, the King of Kent, to his brother Horsa. It’s one of the strongest offerings on the album, even if it does sound somewhat ‘out of place’ in the broader context of Sprezzatura (and very much like an outtake from the Last Harvest sessions).
Another ‘trilogy’ follows – ‘Tale Of Three Lovers’ encapsulating ‘Wishing Well’, ‘You Better Shut Your Mouth’, and ‘Never Tell On You’.
‘Wishing Well’ is a pleasant enough, if somewhat ‘routine’, acoustic ballad with Lucie V’s multi-tracked vocals the highlight, although Egan’s final third ‘sub-continent’ noodlings feel like something of an afterthought and do nothing to enhance the number.
There’s some exquisite interplay between Phil Warren (bass), Egan, and Danny Chang (guitar) on ‘Better Shut Your Mouth’ – a biting, post relationship, infidelity fuelled breakup ‘revenge’ song, with Lucie V’s bittersweet vocals the epitome of a woman scorned; and ‘Never Tell On You’ is as close as the band have got, thus far, to a ‘pop’ song – an infectious number with a great hook, and a vein they’ll hopefully explore further on future outings.
The album then closes with the longest piece – ‘The Long Goodbye’ – which, frankly, is a bit laboured, and whoever was handed the mic for the opening lines, should be kept well away from it in future.
So, all in all, after the consistent highs of their debut, if gives me no pleasure to report that Sprezzatura is something of a mixed bag. On the plus side, losing Paul Hornsby could have been catastrophic, but Chris Egan has admirably filled that void, even if he has been allowed a little too much latitude to indulge his jazz roots.
But ultimately, on the song writing front, taking the line of least resistance and going for the ‘quick win’ hasn’t entirely paid off. Of course, plenty of great bands have succumbed to ‘second album syndrome’. I’m not sure I’d go quite so far as to categorise Sprezzatura in those terms, but let’s put it this way – unlike it’s predecessor, it’s unlikely to be regarded in 25 years’ time as befitting an anniversary reissue. ***1/2
Review by Pete Whalley
David Randall presents a weekly show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio, Sundays at 22:00 BST (GMT+1, repeated on Mondays and Fridays), when he invites listeners to ‘Assume The Position’. This show was first broadcast on 2 August 2020.
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