No stranger to the studio, prolific songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Stu has yet again come up trumps with his latest offering 4 Reasons To Fly. An ep of 4 well crafted songs (plus a 5th cheeky hidden gem) with unexpected, lush arrangements with surprise instruments and elements!
The opening track On Any Other Day eases in with rather catchy, dreamy guitar picks with a jazzy rhythm section grooving it all along. With smacks of Nick Heyward in mind, the beautiful brass section pops in and out to create a rich, melodic map as this journey begins. Journey, because that's what this ep is all about. "you can stick a pin into a map and tell me I must stay, but not today" The most excellent surprise for me are the sweeping, shimmering harp strums - stunning! I must, reluctantly mention there is a Sade vibe going on, but which is pure compliment.
All I've Ever Known is a soulful, reflective song, again with trademark guitar picks bringing it in, revealing lovely layers of backing vocals from the pre chorus into the chorus before the next surprise, harmonica. Plenty of subtle percussion keeps this lovely track gently pushing along and is punctuated with another surprise element, hammered dulcimer. The harmonica solo parts put me in mind of some of Pete Townshend's excellent solo material from 1982. So far Stu has himself in 'good company' with the names mentioned already!
Track 3 is a brave offering indeed! As a songwriting guitarist, Stu has abandoned convention by leaving his guitar firmly in its case and going with a George Martin inspired string section instead. And Then You Wonder... a beautiful song, and where the Eleanor Rigby approach is seldom used to good effect generally, but this song just simply works perfectly with this treatment. When you listen, you are completely transported within the song itself, carried effortlessly by the string arrangements and Stu's vocal melodies. They compliment each other like it was meant to be - which is no 'wonder' at all!
Is This The End? begins with a country feel and those guitar picks we have become accustomed to. Another reflective song with dreamy chord changes and wonderful vocals. And just when you think harmonica, or strings, or dulcimer or brass might make a now familiar appearance, no sir! - we are treated to the unexpected but beautiful swell of the Duduk, an Armenian woodwind instrument. Perfectly placed both melodically and tonally in the song. A genius stroke of hammond organ and oboe takes us out to sea like a boat drifting off into the sunset and almost not wanting it to end, just as Stu asks us again 'Is This The End?!
Track 5 caught me off guard... Once More With Feeling, a hidden track (unless you read the sleeve notes!). The sounds of trains and perhaps a busy commuter experience, whereby a banal familiarity can give way to a man's most inner thoughts. You can almost see the image of a lonely man, packed train, rain on the windows and with head in deep thought against the glass.
The sleeve design is by brilliant artist Colin Margison (who's artwork I have used on my own ep Circlet of Gold from 2017). The image of a caged pigeon, now uncaged, and sitting upon a windowsill, looking out to an inviting sea and what the world has to offer beyond. He looks reflective before taking the leap into the unknown - feel the fear, and do it anyway! A perfect image, synonymous with Stu's '4 Reasons...' songs.
Review by Mike Turnbull