I have recently taken up photography as a hobby, not digital, but on film. I am shunning “Auto” and taking time to compose each shot, being choosy about what I take, as the roll is not infinite. As such, each shot becomes treasured, even if it does not come out as expected. Bob Bradshaw’s new album, ‘American Echoes’, has the feeling of a treasured photo album crammed with fond memories and experiences. Indeed, Bradshaw started his journey in America, which has led to the content of ‘American Echoes’, way back in 1989. It is a product of the people, places and venues he has visited and the experiences he has had in his adopted homeland. It draws on classic American genres ranging from country and folk to bluegrass and the blues. The album is a celebration and a document of the dreamers, poets and sinners that he has met on his journey across the nation’s landscape.
Bradshaw, an Irish born singer/songwriter, is a graduate of the prestigious Berklee College of Music, gaining his degree of Professional Music in 2009. This “official” accreditation of his abilities is underpinned by years of experience as a self-taught player performing in the streets of Europe as well as in U.S. cover bands, bar bands, and in his own San Francisco Band, Resident Aliens. Evidence of this experience on the road and as a graduate professional, feeds into the sound and lyrics found on ‘American Echoes’. The new album follows critical acclaim for the predecessors ‘Home’ in 2013 and 2015’s ‘Whatever You Wanted’, which was named by the Telegraph as one of the best Americana/Country albums of the year. It was credited as “a wonderful paced example of how he has lifted the sights, sounds and moods if America and sparkled them with originality” (Pennyblack Music). ‘American Echoes’ is a compelling development of this theme.
The album’s atmospheric opener, ‘Exotic Dancers Wanted’ is a perfect example of the aforementioned theme. The title itself conjures the image of a badly pinned advert on the outside of a slightly drab dancing club. Elements of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘The Wrestler’ and the poetic storytelling of Bob Dylan can be found here. Bradshaw’s lyrical camera drifts from punter to punter as their mini biographies are laid before the listener. The gentle, lapping almost lazy summer's day rhythm and tinkling piano provides the light backdrop for the sordid stories within. Parallels are drawn between the club and the world outside, from which the clientele are desperate to escape, if only for a few hours. The heady, alcohol soaked ambience is captured in the lyric: “Freddie in the front row, not quite yet a man, got the hots for Dixie, he’s drinkin’ it all in. Wonders: will I ever get to tell the dancers from the dance?” Bradshaw is sympathetic to the dancers, though candid about the reality of the club that they need the punters as much as the punters need the dancers “Her pockets filled with dollar bills a flask of whiskey and some pills. Hell, even she can’t tell the dancers from the dance…”
‘Meet me’ shares territory with Richard Hawley’s ‘Coles Corner’, albeit a different take on a similar theme - the heartbreaking search for companionship in the faceless metropolis. The endless list of meeting locations, suggesting new dates each time, indicates each one in turn has failed to develop to anything more than a one off encounter. “...meet me downtown, any place, anytime…” The heartfelt lyric is given greater gravitas by Andrew Stern’s sweeping guitar. The eagerness for intimacy and self sacrifice to find it is all too evident “I’ll be waiting for you, don’t you worry. I’ll be there before you if I hurry...Eastside, Westside, anyplace you got in mind. Tell me when, tell me where. I’ll be there.”
‘Call It What You Will’ opens with a drumbeat reminiscent of Michael Jackson’s take on ‘Ain’t No Sunshine’. This track would not sound out of place on Sting’s seminal ‘Ten Summoner’s Tales’. A haunting and standout track, there are shades of John Martyn to Bradshaw’s vocal which is backed by beautiful harmonies from Britt Connors and the gentle tumbling piano solo of James Rohr. “Things got a little stormy up in the sky…” the turbulent relationship laid bare in the lyrics is metaphorically represented by the moon (she) and the sun (he) and the unravelling of a once harmonious union. As with the timeless battle between the moon and the sun for precedence, she has been exhausted by the relentless challenge of the partnership “The moon is sad and frazzled, she’s not the fightin’ kind. She’s worn out by his cruel and fiery ways...”. While the conflict seems inescapable the moon (she) longs for release “You can call it what you will, but I can’t wait until it’s over.”
‘Assumptions’ shares some of its DNA with Pete Droge and the Sinners “Beautiful Girl”, with Bradshaw’s vocal recalling Guy Garvey at his most tender. It is a companion piece to ‘Meet Me’ yet, rather than the self sacrifice seen in that song, here our protagonist has more self preservation. “And you won’t understand how meticulous plans come to nothing, how assumptions are made, and how you must go on alone.” The close harmonies in the chorus give way to a glorious guitar solo in the bridge. It is an ode to lost love and what could have been. “Here’s to the journey, that was not ours to take…” Gently moving, profound and will have fans searching out the repeat button, time and again.
‘Weight of the World’ opens with a Beatle-esque ‘Day Tripper’ guitar solo; full throttle rock with Mark Knopfler echoed in Bradshaw’s effortlessly commanding vocal. A foot tapping, jukebox favourite celebrating truckers, a love affair with insomnia and the wee hours of the morning. “Clock tells me it’s three o three, and I’ve been lyin’ here prayin’ I’d see the daylight...I’m carrying the weight, ferrying the freight, carrying the weight of the world.” It is dancefloor friendly and no doubt the staple of live sets with searing electric guitar and infectious drumming of Mike Connors. Only thing is at only 2.32 it is over much too soon!
In stark contrast, it is followed by the beautiful ‘Stella’. Again, there are hints of Richard Hawley here and the lush teenage dream of Rick Nelson’s ‘Lonesome Town’. It is an unapologetically romantic serenade to the lady of the title and the impact she has had on our protagonist; “I came outta’ my shell for ya, now you see I am dancin’ too.” The lyric encompasses giving all of yourself to one person and falling hopelessly in love. “Feelin’ light on my feet ‘round ya, Stella. Maybe we can find the beat together, one step away, Stella. What do you say, Stella. Take my hand and lead me there where you are.” This track is shortly followed by its bookend - ‘Material For The Blues’. It is a lullaby marking the creativity sparked by solitude, yet is similarly romantic. The storyteller hides the unfulfilled relationships and half forgotten dates behind a firm exterior and draws on this emotional fuel for his craft. “There are no marks, you see no bruise, my world’s a silent house filled with material for the blues.”
Regarding the album’s title Bradshaw himself states: “[As echoes] these songs travel forwards and backwards at the same time...backwards to the folk and country music that first inspired me to sing and write songs, and forwards into more complex, layered sounds I encountered in Berklee.” ‘American Echoes’ is an important crossroads for Bradshaw; like a well thumbed journal, it lays down a rich melting pot of collated ideas and signals the beginning of a new stage in his musical journey. Based on this remarkable collection of songs, fans of Americana and Country should watch Bradshaw’s next step with great anticipation.
Review by Jon Amer.
American Echoes will be released by Fluke Records on October 20th 2017.