Sunday, December 21, 2014

Review: The Haunted Highway by Martin Stephenson

Martin arrived yesterday, and so, later, did Rob Ayling with a box full of the Haunted Highway, the latest album by Martin Stephenson and The Daintees. This album has been a long time coming, having to fit in with Martin's hectic touring schedule, with recording by Jason Howe at The Premises Studio, and the stems then travelled to Aidrie to be mixed at Beetroot Studios. And now, here is is. Let me talk you through it....
The personnel apart from Martin are John Steel on guitars, bass and keyboards, Kate Stephenson on drums and vocals, and additional vocals by Alex Smith, with some additional acoustic guitar from Stuart MacLeod, who mixed it. Martin produced the album, and it is the latest in a long line of productions for his Barbaraville label, but more of that later.
The album features two instrumentals, Johnny Red and Mahina. Mahina is a surfing track that rides the guitar feedback and conjures up urban landscapes as the drums drive it along. Both this and Johnny Red, the1960s- flavoured garage band track, show off the musicianship of this band, which has honed its skills through both a substantial touring background, and long-distance e-recording.
Of course, the songs are the heart of the album, and Martin is in fine voice, sometimes sounding like Jim Reeves on the more country style songs (Haunted Highway, which is a country-gospel song that lives in Nashville and has the potential to be covered by many different voices: you hear me, Nashville?), and sometimes calling on his inner Chet Baker as on the sublimely beautiful and intimate Wishing Stone which highlights the flow of his fingerpicking (and is actually my personal favourite as a track). Hobo Trains is a spiritual take on West Coast rock that features a rockin' drum solo from Kate and energetic backing vocals from Alex.
There is so much to sing along to here: Let Your True Love Show, a reggae song with a lovely vocal that is probably the singalongest song on the album; Backhouse Tipping, which reminds me of card sharps and snooker sharks; Stanstead Ground with its relaxed groove. The inner cowboy is channelled by Black Eyed Rose, where John Steel's twanging guitar calls on the spirit of Ennio Morricone and Hank Marvin simultaneously. The last song on the album, Ride, is an anthemic song that will transfer to the football terraces with ease (need a new song, Newcastle United?); actually, maybe this one is the catchiest one?
The band are playing tonight at The Borderline where we will be selling preview copies of the album. I will be playing too and so will El Cid, Martin's daughters band that also features Rupert Hughes, son of Hurrah, another Kitchenware band.
Inside the package is a compilation CD of tracks by all the artists Martin has produced over the last couple of years, the result of months of work mixing, editing, planning and arranging. Listeners will find this to be full of gems, and to be reviewed at a later date.

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