In the big bad world of American-dominated, lonesome, white trash blues, the competition is fierce but Christopher Rees has never been afraid to plough his own lonely furrow. His second album, 'Alone On A Mountain Top (The Ty Bach Twt Sessions)' finds him standing tall and strong, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Johnny Cash, John Mellencamp, Jack White and even **Springsteen (c.1986 - 'Nebraska' era).
Three things radiate from this collection of 14 songs, recorded in a mid-Wales cottage in just one week last summer: courage, confidence and character. Although the recording quality is deliberately homespun, at times this has afforded the creative process such freedom and spontaneity that artistic quality overrides and overrules issues of production polish and gloss.
Most artists would be defeated by the challenge of writing and recording good music that can be played and sung in one or two straight takes. Not so Christopher Rees – he appears to relish the difficulties and thrives on the restrictions. Even so, given these deliberate restrictions, this collection is often quite dense and highly produced. There are overdubbed solos, accompaniments, subtle percussive touches, and in the big upbeat numbers (such as 'Haitian Cannonball') a huge wall of sound belies the project's solo ethos. 'Hold Off Goodbye', 'Wasted Life' and 'Lord Find Me A Home' are lonely, heartfelt, preacher-man folksong-style laments which would find themselves at home on the soundtrack of Minghella's 'Cold Mountain'.
Interspersed between these are more up-tempo pieces – 'Hope Springs' is lean and optimistic, 'Not A Word' is a fast, high-energy Mississippi Blues chant, while 'Fair-Weather Friend' has its tongue in its Old Country cheek, with its laconic banjo stomp. 'Worn Out Crutches' is rough-hewn but genuine, and _'A Heartbeat Or Two is enjoyable home-spun philosophy from the rocking chair on the porch.
But better than all of these are 'The Will To Live' – a true class torch song, worthy of an instinctual artist like Damien Rice [at his best] – all high-charged aching lyrics, wailing harmonica and guitars, and 'Haitian Cannonball', a faux-heavy 12-bar blues, floating on a deliciously unusual guitar & percussion groove.
But despite Rees' embarrassment of riches, the very best is saved 'til last. 'Hold Me Down' is the kind of soul-baring cris de coeur Rees is well known for. Even in a karaoke competition, the odds look very good for it to still come up smelling good. And in conclusion, 'Hush Now Be Still' – a fine lullaby, simple, poignant, distilled down to its essence, and totally believable.
There are, however, a few touches I miss at times, such as occasional excellent backup vocals - a female presence - a hint of fiddle, a smear of Hammond or accordion. Maybe some of these songs could be revisited in the studio when Rees has hit the big time in North America.
Somehow Christopher Rees has managed to avoid pretentiousness and fakery in this visually gorgeous CD release on the Red Eye label. It will be hard to beat – but if he can keep up this level of achievement in his following work, the future looks very, very bright indeed.
Rees is currently out and about on tour. Catch him now if you can, and buy this inspired CD before it becomes the ubiquitous sound of Summer.
Now run along to our **Downloads section and help yourself to 'Hope Springs'.
(Many thanks to John Hardy, a Bafta award winning, freelance composer and songwriter based in Cardiff, for the vast majority of this text.)
8Jane Oriel's Score