Do you miss the jingle-jangle of R.E.M., The Byrds, Tom Petty, Teenage Fanclub, or Cosmic Rough Riders?
CRR was Daniel Wylie's Scottish band; he remains one of my favorite singer-songwriters in the folk-rock genre. Daniel knows something about identifying talent, and he told many of us these past few years about the very righteous singer-songwriter Mr. Bailey. After meeting via Facebook during the Covid lockdown and receiving some songs from Ian, Daniel decided they should collaborate on some songs. The fruit of that connection led them to collaborate on this, their third long player. All twelve songs on Strange Times were co-written, composed, and arranged 50/50 by Bailey and Wylie. And, with this collection of beautiful songs, I've added Ian M Bailey to my list of favorite contemporary singer-songwriters. Moreover, this album is one of my top albums of the year.
Recorded and produced at Ian's home studio Small Space Studios in England, he handles all the vocals and backing vocals, 6 and 12-string Rickenbacker, acoustic guitars, drums, bass, piano, keyboards, and percussion. The strings were arranged by Alan Gregson, who also provided his prowess on the Hammond organ, bass synth, lap steel, Rhodes piano, dobro, and brush drum, all recorded at his West Orange Recording Studio in France.
Right out of the gate, they unleash an homage to Gene Clark's Byrds and Tom Petty's righteous Heartbreakers on the appropriately titled "The Last Chime." This is one of the best tracks on an album that is all meat with no fillers. And it blends perfectly into more of the same on the second track, "It's Summer Rain," with Bailey's 12-string Rickenbacker laying down the infectious rhythm guitar.
"Mother Nature (Giving Out Signs)" is terrific. The sitar guitar effect gives it that Byrds' vibe circa Fifth Dimension.
Unless I'm mistaken, this tune sounds like Mr. Wylie:
She's loving you with her mind
She's Mother Nature giving out signs
We're travelers on this ride
with Mother Nature giving out signs
Elsewhere, the rocking instrumental "She Waltzes with the Devil" could frame an action sequence in Steven Soderbergh's Ocean's Eleven, Twelve, or Thirteen comedic heist films.
"Pray For Me" is another uptempo, guitar-chugging gem that reminds me of Cosmic Rough Riders circa Enjoy the Melodic Sunshine. Again, the Rickenbackers are front and center on the singalong choruses that lift the song into the stratosphere. The backward guitar riff is a nifty touch, too. It's my choice for a third single.
Sign along the dotted line
the book of love's been undermined
the ring is off my finger
and you are off my mind
well, the car is my plaything
you say I can keep it
but here's the sting
You get to keep the children
and you will get the house
"The Sweet Smell of Roses" could be a waltz that Shane MacGowan (RIP) might have written. The ache of the song builds from the delicate filigrees of 6 and 12-string guitars that ultimately push it forward into a beautifully sweeping, orchestrated backing.
"We Leave in Strange Times" is a mid-tempo rocker that starts with a delicate backward guitar riff and then jumps out at you when the chorus kicks in with harmony vocals and a muscular guitar riff. The bridge hits you sideways and then the solo drops in and drops out for a few seconds before the guitars take hold again. If Mr. Petty was with us, I bet he'd cover this gem. The backwards guitar solo on the outro punctuates this corker.
I've been waiting I've been patient
nothing ever goes the way we've planned
the tide it comes to wash away the land
I've been around baby I've been around
baby I've been around
We live in strange times
baby I've been around
The album ends with two wonderul ballads. The acoustic lilt of the romantic "Country Girl" ballad is pure post-Byrds Gene Clark. Something one might have heard on White Light. Again, the use of backing strings frames the song beautifully. "The Moon Floats On A Cloud" ends things on a delicate acoustic guitar, Rhodes piano, and Richard Curran's mournful cello. It's a ballad in the spirit of Richard Hawley meets Nick Drake. And as we drift off, we understand that life will cycle on.
This timeless album will reward the listener with every play. (Rumor has it that a fourth album is in the works.)
Buy the album direct from Kool Kat Musik USA.