Album Reviews: The Bookhouse Boys – The Bookhouse Boys (2008)

It’s difficult to know where to start with this. On first listen and without any accompanying literature you would be forgiven for thinking that it was some obscure soundtrack album from a low budget sixties gangster flick or spaghetti western rather than a debut album recorded in 2008.

For the uninitiated The Bookhouse Boys are a rather large band, numbering at least nine, who appear to have a good live following in and around London. From the evidence of this album I would expect them to be an excellent live act – especially if you like melodramatic sixties soundtracks.

Moving on to the album the opening instrumental intro is surely destined to be used in a film somewhere. It sets the mood for the album perfectly, one of an undercurrent of menace and melancholy. Whether that was the plan or not I wouldn’t know but if they have good management the silver screen suits will surely be alerted and the appropriate licences issued.

Second track ‘Dead’  is very much in the vein of a Scott Walker track from Scott 1,2,3 or 4 as are a number of the other tracks. Singer Van Oestroen has obviously studied Walker and delivers his vocal in a very similar style capturing the gloom and despondency as only a follower of Walker could.

‘Shoot You Down’ is quite clearly the highlight of the album to these ears. The only thing wrong with it is that it is too short. Once again the Walker influence is more than noticeable although I would say that in this instance it leans more towards the Jacques Brel songs. The use of female vocalist Catherine Turner is what makes the track and I would suggest that she has been criminally under used on the rest of the album. The effect of the contrast between the voices of Turner and Van Oestroen is one of the bands strengths and if they are to achieve any success as recording artists it is one which they will have to make more use of.

‘I Can’t Help Myself’ is another highlight although it suffers from following the standout ‘Shoot You Down’. ‘Baby I Gotta Go’  has the feel of a 1968 Deep Purple track which obviously pleases me, but for some reason ‘Mariacha La’ reminds me of Chumbawumba which most certainly does not.

‘The Valley’ and ‘I Believe’ are the only tracks which really disappoint though, the latter named just descending into unlistenable noise

I have to be honest and say that I expected so much more from this album after being played a few tracks prior to its release. Sadly the majority of the tracks are just too short or played too fast and it takes far too many listens for the tracks to attain their own identity.

My biggest worry for them is that I just don’t see where they go from here. I can’t imagine them competing in the singles market and they are certainly not going to appeal to the younger market. To be releasing your debut album when around thirty, as I believe most of the band are, and without any recording history is not an ideal situation. Also if this is the best material they can come up with for a debut that has taken so long to see the light of day then the traditionally difficult sophomore effort is going to be a hurdle they will struggle to get over. It may well transpire that they have missed the boat.

Another concern is that the band just has too many personnel. Saying that though I do have to question whether they really should be billed as a band anyway. The whole thing feels much more like a solo album than a band album. This could well be due to the fact that one member, Paul Van Oestroen, takes the lead vocal, plays more instruments than anyone else, wrote all of the songs alone, and produced the album. In many ways this is a Van Oestroen solo album despite the lengthy cast list. That may well be what happens next and with the right representation and guidance he could find an outlet for his dark almost gloom laden material as a solo artist.

To summarise then ‘The Bookhouse Boys’ is a very atmospheric, dark, but strangely uptempo album. If you are a fan of Jacques Brel or Scott Walker, especially Scott 1,2,3 and to a lesser extent 4 it is worth a listen.

© Martin Leedham. First published on RYM October 2008.

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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