“It’s déjà vu all over again,” as baseball legend Yogi Berra once said.
Which is by way of explaining that new album 4am And Counting, from London’s Curse Of Lono is primarily a set of stripped back, live-in-the-studio recordings of songs they’ve previously released on their first two albums, Severed and As I Fell. The end result is something with a more intimate vibe than those earlier records, and with a handful of guest appearances to add some extra embellishment to their sound has its own distinct attractions.
Now, Curse Of Lono’s sound tends to attract labels of an American bent – alt.country, Americana, Southern Gothic, that sort of thing. And not without reason. But they’re still, you know, English – okay, main man Felix Bechtolsheimer was actually born in Germany,
|Curse Of Lono - they ain't from Austin, Texas you know|
Typical of their oeuvre is ‘Valentine’, which is rooted in a dark, hypnotic groove, coloured by restrained keyboard notes, and vocal harmonies delivering a lyric in which the protagonist declares “I got a dagger for your lover’s heart”. A cheery little ditty then – and with a melody that just begs you to join in. It also features a top-notch, perfectly judged little guitar solo from Joe Hazell, who has a gift for playing with what seems like weightlessly clear tone.
These characteristics are carried along through several of the tunes here, but with a range of little twists that provide variety and keep a grip on your attention. So you get pattering rhythms on both ‘London Rain’ and ‘Pick Up The Pieces’, for example, but whereas the former evokes The Doors via some very Ray Manzarek piano, the latter has a folkish feel to its acoustic guitar and melody. And if ‘London Rain’ recalls The Doors, I also have a soft spot for the gently chugging ‘Wild Thing’ riff that drives ‘Blackout Fever’, a relaxed affair with a catchy chorus on which neat harmonies are punctuated by splashes of cymbal.
Contrastingly there’s a relentless forward motion to the rhythm of ‘I’d Start A War For You’, like seeing white lines disappear underneath a car. It’s also one of several songs to benefit from some pedal steel decoration from special guest B.J. Cole, not least the excellent ‘Way To Mars’, a very Alabama 3-ish country style choon on which Cole’s shimmering efforts are augmented by harp from another guest in the form of Nick Reynolds from – well, Alabama 3, as it happens. ‘Mars’ is also home to another grabbing hook, on which the gang rouse themselves vocally, plus a delightfully Stones-y guitar solo from Hazell - who I have to say becomes something of a scene-stealer as the album progresses, not by showing off, but by serving the songs beautifully. So ‘Welcome Home’, for example, features more sparkling guitar, including one very Robbie Robertson-like fill, in addition to an on-the-money back porch harp solo from Reynolds to close.
There’s one song not previously released by the band, namely Tom Waits’ ‘Going Out West’, and a damn fine job they do of it too. Ticking over with brooding, intertwined fuzzy guitars they capture the mood perfectly, Bechtolsheimer even conjuring up a hint of Waits-like gravel as he plays out the cocky lyric.
Curse Of Lono’s first album Severed was predominantly recorded by Bechtolsheimer and producer Oli Bayston. What 4am And Counting demonstrates is how much they’ve now come together as band, their sound knitted together with ease. If you haven’t heard them before, this album is a real good place to start.
4am And Counting is released by Submarine Cat Records on 12 July.
Read the exclusive Blues Enthused interview with Felix Bechtolsheimer here.
You can also find live reviews of Curse Of Lono supporting Samantha Fish, starting here.