This is one of those albums that gets described as a “solid debut”. In other words, it’s good but a little cautious. Stephen Fretwell’s hushed tones, like a ‘Nebraska’ era Springsteen with flat vowels, deliver a guided tour through the museum of classic singer/songwriters.
That sense of reverence, and the portentously detailed and roomy sound engineering, actually make the beginning of the album sound a little cold and faceless. It isn’t until the third track, ‘Run’, that his personality starts to appear. Even then it feels at times like a fight between what Fretwell sounds like and what singer/songwriters are supposed to sound like.
It’s clear that he can write songs of genuine elegance and understated grace. ‘Rose’, ‘Emily’ and ‘New York’ all show a talent for compact melodic wistfulness. Even the obligatory mid tempo swing of ‘Lost Without You’ contains quirks and touches that raise it well above generic. But at other times the ‘old records’ atmosphere seems to engulf him.
In fact, though, this is what a debut album should be like – full of promise, peppered with good moments and suggesting better things to come.
6Julian Ridgway's Score