In need of a soothing soundtrack for you to lay back, close your eyes and chill for a bit? This latest solo album from Gary Fletcher, a founding member and still a stalwart of the Blues Band could be just the ticket. River Keeps Flowing is a semi-acoustic affair that weaves together strands of folk and Americana as much as the blues.
|Gary Fletcher - have guitar, will travel|
The eerie opening instrumental vignette carries echoes of Dire Straits, à la the intro to ‘Private Investigations’ perhaps, and that’s a useful touchstone for at least some of what follows, starting with ‘No Shadow On The Wall’, a song that lives up to its enigmatic title, with gentle acoustic strumming and subtle bass and piano contributing to the backing for Fletcher’s hushed vocal, ahead of a steely, sparking acoustic guitar solo. The patient and‘Hearsay’ is in a similar vein, a meditation on memory and pain that combines subtle banjo from Fletcher, pattering drums, melancholy harp phrases from Alan Glen, and elegantly soaring and dipping violin from Tom Leary, like a bird on the wing.folky
There’s more of an Americana flavour to ‘Back To Your Heart’, set to a swaying rhythm from drummer Sam Kelly, with Leary’s violin playing in more fiddle-like mode to mesh with accordion from Charlie Hart. It’s dreamily romantic and hopeful, with harp licks from fellow Blues Band member Paul Jones on this occasion, and an impressive violin solo from Leary, whose playing is also to the fore to good effect on ‘It’s Just Feel’, a simple tune for a contented love song which is given a warmer sound, with Fletcher’s voice taking on a lower, more muscular timbre.
But some songs call for more drive they don’t always find top gear. The social commentary of ‘Something’s Got To Give’, a Gerry Rafferty-like tune, is gently pushed along and is given some bite by an electric guitar solo, but it would benefit from a more assertive vocal. And in fact Fletcher’s voice does have its limitations, even if the production does a good job of giving it thickness. He’s a bit under-powered on ‘Jacob Burkle’, a tale of the slave-emancipating Underground Railroad set to rippling banjo, more swatches of violin, and slide guitar, but feels a little bland until a lift in tempo gives some impetus to its harp and violin solos. Meanwhile ‘You Can, You Can’ hints at a ‘Take Me To The River’-type groove, pushed along by the bass and drums, but never really acquires enough dig.
‘Don’t You Come Creeping’ is a success in bluesier, more upbeat vein though, with its skipping rhythm and rising and falling slide guitar riff producing a surprisingly perky vibe for what appears to be a reflection on paranoia. And there are always good moments to savour, even if some of the material begins to sound a bit samey. ‘You Just Can’t Know’, for example, is nicely delivered if not especially distinctive, until a good instrumental passage lets the violin, guitar and Lol Plummer’s piano flow. ‘I Couldn’t Be Asking’ has a rather prosaic melody for its ‘Dark End Of The Street’-like narrative, but Glen’s yearning harp is good, there are excellent harmonies on the chorus, and it closes with a tastefully tumbling guitar line.
Fletcher’s lyrics are always thoughtful, whether ruminating on relationship questions or other subjects, and the frequent focus on harmonica and violin in the instrumentation suits the songs well. Few of the individual songs may knock your socks off, but as a mood-piece to wash over you River Keeps Flowing is a collection with a lyrical charm.
River Keeps Flowing is available now as a CD or download on most platforms, including Amazon and Spotify, and here.