As many of us are eagerly awaiting our copies of the new Edwina Hayes album ‘Good Things Happen Over Coffee’ to arrive I thought this may be a good opportununity to remind readers old and new just how good the first two were ……..
Some months ago I was quite happily chatting away in my local pub and as frequently happens in the company I keep the talk turned to music. It was then that I heard the phrase that I, and I daresay most other music reviewers, have come to dread. My friend Martin Jones said “You really must hear my friend Edwina …” Of course those of us that commit our thoughts to print know that this usually means we are going to be expected to wax lyrical about a performer of, usually, limited talent. The next time I saw my friend Mr Jones he plunged his hand into his bag and presented me with a CD which if I’m honest I wasn’t exactly expecting to be anything out of the ordinary.
Imagine my surprise then when I put it on the deck and I was hit with a sleek, polished and highly professional and heartfelt collection of what can only be described as beautiful and heart wrenching songs rather than the low budget off key pedestrian affair that usually wends its way to Leedham Towers through the ‘friends of friends’ route.
Anyway enough with the preamble lets cut to the chase, get on with the job in hand and try the impossible – to try and get over in print just how good this album is. Never an easy thing for a reviewer and made even more difficult when you know that all that is really neccesary is to listen to the thing.
The first thing that hits you is Edwina’s truly remarkable voice. It has been described by Nanci Griffith no less as “the sweetest voice in England”, for my part I have to say that I haven’t heard a voice with such a perfect blend of clarity and feeling in a very long time, if ever. Usually an abundance of one leads to a certain lacking in the other in my experience, but not here. Edwina’s pitch perfect delivery and sublime melodies give the album a feeling of familiarity and freshness at the same time. Something that many a more seasoned performer struggles to do. After a few listens you really will begin to believe that you have owned the album for years as the songs gently seep into your soul. At times it is difficult to believe that this is her debut album such is the quality of performance. Proof positive if it were needed that tireless gigging will hone a performer into something far more precious than Simon Cowell and his crew can manage with makeovers and dancers.
As well as contributing acoustic guitar herself Edwina is musically well served by a bunch of talented musicians. Particular mention should be made of Clive Gregson who contributed countless performances on an impressive range of instruments including organ, guitar, mandolin and accordion as well as chipping in with a few backing vocals and joint control of the producers seat with John Wood. Similarly the input of John Burr is worth a mention too, particularly as his, at times beautifully understated, piano drives some of the songs along and is a perfect foil to Edwina’s voice. Listening to the album on a top quality deck through top of the range headphones really brings out the subtle, yet at times intricate melodies behind the beautiful vocal performance. Backing vocals are even provided on some tracks by Dr Hooks’ Dennis Locorriere.
The material itself is all written or co written by Edwina and encompasses many a style. Delivery wise Edwina’s vocal style is very much folk balladeer with most of the lyrics being ‘litle girl lost’ searching for love type stories. In fact they are delivered with such feeling that even the most stone hearted of people will get a lump in their throat at some point, and you will at times just want to give her a cuddle and look after her. One of Edwina’s main qualities as a lyricist is the abilty to make the lyrics sound autobiographical and yet relevent to the listener at the same time. At times you will convince yourself that she is singing about you and not her. That is the highest accolade you can give to a lyricist and not one I would bestow lightly. The influence of Bob Dylan in her storytelling is also abundantly clear.
Musically however the album has a real undercurrent of Nashville country tinged melancholy. That is not surprising considering she has spent a great deal of time there. What is surprising though is that she has managed to stay true to her natural vocal style and hasn’t been tempted to veer into the country diva territory. Amazingly the two blend together perfectly for despite the Nashville influence Edwina is all English rose, or given her Irish roots should that be British rose, in her delivery. With elements of pop, jazz, and even a bit of tribal come medieval baroque sounding instrumentation, there’s even a Cor Anglais on there, this is a veritable cornucopia of wonder.
“Out On My Own” starts off with two mid paced songs full of texture and beautiful melodies ‘I Want Your Love’ and ‘Want You To Stay’. They set the tone for the album perfectly both musically and in lyrical content. The scene is set and the listener is just enthralled right from the off. The importance of the piano is again paramount in ‘Where I Belong’ underpinning the melody and moving the song along in a magnificently understated way. There is a complete change of tempo for ‘I Can’t Believe’, the haunting tribal sounding intro giving way to an atmospheric song which turns into something that is almost baroque/medieval. ‘Lost’ is more akin to the early numbers before ‘Closer To Home’ takes us to another place entirely with its twangy guitar lines and brief flirtation with a more pop sound. ‘Eyes Of A Stranger’ meanwhile is a more laid back jazzy song altogether yet still manages to keep the folk and country elements without becoming a mish mash of styles.
The highlight of the album for me, if such a good consistent album can have a highlight is the truly remarkable ‘Easy To Leave’. I say truly remarkable purely in a personal sense because after countless years listening to, making, writing and reviewing music never before has one song totally knocked me off me feet like this one has. As I mentioned earlier Edwina has the incredible ability to make you believe that she is singing about you and voicing words that are in your head. Never before have I wished so much that I had written one of someone elses songs. On thing for certain is that if I ever make another album there will be one cover on it and this will be it !!
Things quicken up a little on the next two tracks. I am no expert on Bob Dylan and I may be well off the mark here but ‘No Idea’ for some reason makes me think of his faster paced folky songs. Whatever it is that it reminds me off it certainly brings a smile and a tapping foot to replace the goosebumps and lump in the throat left by its predecessor. ‘Tony’s Tune’ is a much faster affair with an almost rock feel to it especially at the beginning before the album concludes with ‘The Road’ and ‘Won Me Over’ two more songs in the same vein of the majority of the album. A more apt closing track is difficult to imagine for Edwina will almost certainly have done that by the time you reach the end.
“Out On My Own” is a superbly produced, well written and beautifully sung album that is remarkably accessible. The songs and melodies will gently work their way in your soul becoming like old friends very quickly indeed. It is without doubt the finest debut album I have heard in a very very long time. In fact the last debut album to come even close to it was the Chantal Kreviazuk debut “Under These Rocks And Stones”. I have absolutely no qualms in recommending it to one and all and bestowing upon it, albeit a little late, my album of the year award for 2005.
For many years Sandy Denny has been widely regarded as the first lady and Queen of British Folk music. Finally we have someone talented enough to take over that crown. The new Queen of British Folk, Edwina Hayes.
Oh and one last thing, Mr Jones, I owe you a very large drink !
Anyway, enough of the personal claptrap and number crunching. Lets get on to the album proper.
Well the first thing to get clear is that this is a vastly different experience to the one that was “Out On My Own’. Gone are all the intricate musical arrangements and backing vocals. In fact gone are all the instruments altogether with the exception of a guest appearance by Jake McKeague on acoustic guitar and dobro top and tailing the album and a Carissa Broadwater harmony vocal on the opener. For the rest of “Pour Me A Drink” it is just Edwina’s beautiful voice accompanied by her own acoustic guitar. In the sleeve notes she explains that she has done this “stripping back” deliberately to make the album more in line with her live performances. As someone who has been lucky enough to witness a number of these I can tell you she has achieved this perfectly.
To try and describe all the tracks in detail would be to do them a dis-service but the safest comment to make is that if you like one you will like them all. If “Out On My Own” was a mixture of styles then this is pure acoustic folk music heaven. There isn’t a drum or a fade out to be heard anywhere here and the songs will work their way into your every waking moment even quicker than those on the first album did.
The opener ‘Run’ is probably the fastest paced song on the album and is in a far closer vein to the earlier album than anything else available here.
‘Leave A Light On For You’ is where “Pour Me A Drink” really attains its own identity though. Edwina has been opening her shows with this track recently and as soon as the first note comes out of the cans or speakers you are transported straight back to the gig in your mind. Proof positive that Edwina has achieved exactly what she set out to do. The fact that it is the finest track on the album doesn’t do any harm either. The quality doesn’t drop as a superb version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Waltzing’s For Dreamers’ follows before two more classic Edwina cries for love in ‘Seasons of Love’ and ‘Call Me’.
‘Pretty Lady’ reminds me of “Free At Last” era Free, almost a cross between ‘Child’ and an unused track coincidentally called ‘Lady’! The guitar here is far more prominent than on some of the other tracks and for it to remind me of Paul Kossoff is the greatest compliment I can give to any player of a six stringed instrument. The title track follows and has just been covered by Nanci Griffith on her latest album which should say plenty about its quality.
On first listen the next track can seem a little out of place but it doesn’t take many run throughs before you realise that it actually works perfectly well. Any of you of the same vintage as me will be transported straight back to early schooldays as ‘Froggie Went A Courting’ wends its way into your ears. It shouldn’t work, but it does and the humour in the last line of ” ….. if you want anymore you can sing it yourself” is perfect.
‘I Won’t Say Your Name’ is more classic Edwina and then we get to my own personal dilemma. For many years now I have been championing the talents of one Chantal Kreviazuk to anyone who will listen. A few years ago Chantal recorded ‘Randy Newman’s ‘Feels Like Home’ so listening to and, whisper this to my Canadian friends, preferring Edwina’s version almost felt like being unfaithful. In truth this is probably the song that has given Edwina the most exposure at it was used in the soundtrack to the movie “My Sisters Keeper”. It also featured in an episode of the UK soap opera Eastenders a few weeks ago so I’m reliably informed. The album ends with ‘Irish Waltz’ a song that is maybe more in keeping with the feeling of the first album.
“Pour Me A Drink” is a truly wonderful listening experience that will become a lifelong friend with surprising alacrity. The lyrics and messages within the songs will tug at many a heart string and anyone who has been to an Edwina gig will be transported straight back there as soon as it starts. Similarly anyone owning this album knows exactly what to expect from a night at an Edwina gig. Whichever way around you do it experiencing the one will undoubtedly lead you to wanting to experience the other.