Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Stephen Harrison | The Colour of Black is Black

Stephen Harrison, my old Edinburgh friend & bandmate from long ago (Heyday, mid-80s) recently sent me his new CD, "The Colour of Black is Black". It got put in a to-do pile for a while, but I've dug it out & am listening to it. Here is the cover:

And here is the back cover:

Despite the title and the somewhat stark gray tones on the front cover, this is not the melancholy work I was suspecting when I unwrapped it. The songs for the most part balance melancholy, sadness and introspection with a light and airy feel, reflecting a certain amount of happiness and positive feelings. Lyrically, there is also a sense of happiness that has not always been present in Stephen's words. This is probably due to the presence in his life of singer Karen Edward who co-wrote "Summer Song" with him, & seems to be having an uplifting effect upon his spirit. Musically, the album is quite varied, covering a spectrum from acoustic folk-tinged songs to somewhat harsher soundscapes ("The Way" in particular).

I like the way the instruments are layered: electric (jangly) guitar, acoustic, guitar, keyboards. All the songs are sung & played by Stephen. There is a drum machine, but its main function is to supply a basic beat and mostly not much else, which renders it a pulse, a heartbeat, to the music. Stephen's voice is in fine form, with what seems like more emotional range than usual, or at least more of the emotions are positive this time. All nine songs on the CD are strong, no filler that I can see/hear. All in all, a very thoughtful, eloquent album by a mature artist, & worth repeated listens.

Track-by-track impressions:

1. The Colour of Black is Black (3:34)
A folk-tinged song with prominent acoustic guitar & occasional keyboards. It gives the impression that it's going to be low-key, but then soars into joy from time to time.

2. My Song (2:29)
Slightly downbeat, but with a swing. A yearning love song. Some nice multitracked guitar work.

3. Little Bird (3:35)
Upbeat piano intro over a lively beat. Deliberately uses lyrical cliches to good effect. A happy love song. Could be a minor classic.

4. Somewhere High (2:11)
Another yearning love song. Nice low-key guitar work. Soaring keyboards in the background lift the song in its second half. A little on the short side.

5. The Way (3:49)
The album's center point & a possible masterpiece of relative simplicity. Repetitive to very good effect. A whirlpool of sound that pulls you in. Ominous. Darker and more electronic than much of Stephen's work. The vibrato guitar near the end is a good touch.

6. Summer Song (with words by Karen Edward) (3:52)
Happy acoustic guitar. Simple words. Folky. A feel-good song, relatively. Lots of space in this one. There is a hint of sadness in the background somehow.

7. Undiscovered and Alien (4:54)
Starts off dark and alienated. However, it starts to climb from its well of sadness and takes on a more nurturing tone. There are some beautiful melodic guitar fragments in here. Love transcends all.

8. Wilderness Years (3:34)
Guitar in the beginning sounds a little like birds. Yearning, but with love and happiness. Soulmates in the sun. Love and romance. Dancing with electric shoes.

9. When Darkness Comes (3:12)
Acoustic intro. Sparse. Plain and simple. A quiet beauty. Nice ending for the album.

No comments: