Thursday, 18 February 2016

Spotlight 2016: Paul McClure - Songs For Anyone

Is it too early for an Album Of 2016 - I think not - and I'm not going to get caught short this year so I'm going to call em as I see em in 2016.

The brilliant CLUBHOUSE RECORDS have come up with an absolute winner with their first one out of the traps in 2016.

Now, I must confess that I have been living with this album for a while after picking up a copy on Paul's seemingly never ending tour of House Concerts and small venue appearances in the run up to the release of Songs For Anyone.

Paul would describe this as his second debut album for Clubhouse Records - yes, he's odd that way. Songs For Anyone follows last year's stunning Smiling From The Floor Up - which also achieved an Album Of 2014 place in my 2014 Blog.

So, what has Mr McClure brought to the table for Songs For Everyone?

Well - have a look at this first and then I'll continue.

OK - so now you know that Paul took up the offer from Dreaming Spires multi instrumentalist Joe Bennett to lead the show and produce the album.
Whereas Smiling From The Floor Up was very much a solitary affair for Paul and the songs suited the stripped back minimal approach of Paul's initial songwriting, Joe Bennett has brought more of a band feel to Songs For Anyone with a much more textured and colourful experience this time around.

Joe Bennett has been involved in several excellent albums recently including The Dreaming Spires superb Searching For The Supertruth and Co-Pilgrims excellent Slows To Go and he does a superb job in driving Paul McClure to produce a real beauty of an album.

The colours are firmly nailed to the mast from track one with Gentleman's Agreement. An upbeat Americana number that features layers of harmony and pedal steel - and for this album, the appearance of drums. This track alone marks this album's difference from its predecessor. 

Quite a few of these songs seem to have had a long gestation with the next track Unremarkable Me has seemingly been around for quite a while. Showcasing the sublime vocals of Hannah Elton-Wall from labelmates, The Redlands Palomino Company, who features throughout the album. And also gives Paul the opportunity to blow his harmonica for the world.

Paul's songs are grounded in the reality of life, with friends and especially family vignettes and observations taking centre stage on an album that heads straight for your heart and doesn't let go. The songs may seem simple at first play but with continued plays the album gets under your skin and you can hear the lovely harmonies and touches that Joe Bennett has inserted into the mix.

I Could Be A Happy Man is one such song about the joy of making music. It sounds like it could have been an outtake from one of The Bands early albums recorded out there in Big Pink.

'These Are The Times You're Never Gonna Want To Give Back'

Don't Take Me Under slows the place right down. It is a gorgeous song and is unashamedly romantic, again plainly presented with basic instruments such as acoustic guitar, piano and a beautiful wash of organ and builds to a lovely hymnic finale.

Every Day Is Mine To Spend is just Paul, his guitar and Hannah on duet vocals. It's the one song on the album that could have easily been included into the simple acoustic offering of Smiling From The Floor Up. Well done to Paul and Joe for just keeping it so simple and effective.

Paul has made no secret of his love for Bob Dylan and the next track up the rhythmic Holding A Ten Ton Load is Paul doing his best Dylan - not an impression at all but you can certainly see where the song gets it's inspiration from. And that's Dylan at his best by the way. Harmonica to the fore. And harmonising it's way to the ragged conclusion.

'Someone else is getting your Good Times... and I wish it was me'

With the next track - So Long - I had visions of Johnny Cash and June at their prime with the waltz swing and those close sung harmonies with Hannah. A good old Country weep in your beer future classic you'll all be singing at the end of the night.

Now, Mr McClure likes a hat - so why not sing about one. The jaunty My Big Head Hat Of Dreams is a joy, with it's mariachi brass and insistent beat it perfectly sums up the new approach on this album. It's upbeat and optimistic. 

'Hit those Fuckers right between the eyes'

Paul McClure would have no issue with telling you that he is a romantic at heart and Yesterday's Lies is up there with the best of the songs of romance. With the backing of string quartet, Paul pours his soul out on to listening public with yet more sublime harmonies supplied by Hannah Elton-Wall. It's the most romantic moment on the album and really touches a nerve in this listener. It brings to mind another of Paul's influences, another Paul from Liverpool.

Joe Bennett has used Hannah to great effect on Songs For Anyone and no more so than on this lovely song.

Paul has been ending the majority of his live sets over the past year or so with the next track up - My Little Ray Of Sunshine - it's a song that encourages crowd participation and Paul certainly does his best to get the crowd to join in when he plays it live. In fact, nobody goes home until he's satisfied. I think 4 hours is his record so far!!

The title track A Song For Anyone is the penultimate track on the album. Acoustically based with the backing of harmonies with Hannah and organ it sweeps across your speakers with a quiet grandeur that sums up the trials and tribulations of the modern day travelling troubadour. Well, Paul is well qualified as he IS The Rutland Troubadour. It's world weary and delicate with an underlying nostalgia for the way music used to be enjoyed.

'Ready with a song for those who would listen, just drop the needle and baby we'd be gone'

It's 6 minutes of undiluted pleasure - and again another superb job by Joe Bennett in the producer's chair.

The last track on the album, Lady Flossington, is a light hearted tribute to Paul's daughter - complete with ukulele and thrown together harmonies, it's simple, effective and off the wall joyous. Stick with the silence as I won't spoil the end for you. 

Songs For Anyone is more in line with Paul McClure the live performer. You get to see the nature of the man and facets of his personality that weren't revealed in Smiling From The Floor Up. And we have to thank all those involved in the album for bringing those facets to the fore. 

Paul is out on the road as we speak, both in his solo house concerts and sometimes with backing musicians forming The Local Heroes when the circumstances allow.

If you get a chance to go and see him live then take it. He has a humorous personality and a great set of one liners to boot. And a bagful of superb songs just waiting to be heard. And I am proud to call him my friend.

Tell him Macwood sent sent you. You may even get a hug!

Twitter - @PMcCluremusic

But don't just take my word for it - here are some of the other reviews for Songs For Anyone.

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