James Grant - Strange Flowers (Vertical Records)

David Spencer | Saturday, 06 June 2009

James Grant - Strange Flowers (Vertical Records)

Armed with a dark and rich almost croony voice that could charm the most stubborn of spinsters, James Grant has built up a solid and loyal following over almost 25 years, especially in his native Scotland. More productive than some of his peers, like the frustrating Justin Currie for example, this is his fifth solo album since his Love and Money days.

While it can become a bore to reference back to the band that started his career, it's fair to say that 'Strange Flowers' is the closest he's come to sounding like them since. There are soaring guitar and screeching harmonica moments mixed with widescreen orchestras, to make a bluesy reflective album that delights far more than 2005's 'Holy Love'.

With poetic titles like 'The Hallowing Touch' and 'The Bay At The Nape Of Your Neck', you know this is going to be a more intellectual singer songwriter experience than say fellow James's Blunt or Morrison. Comparisons are more easily drawn to artists like Scott Walker, so don't expect hit after hit. Having said that, there are one or two tracks that could be released, which wasn't the case on his previous albums.

Billed as his most upbeat release since Love and Money's Strange Kind Of Love in 1988, it starts with the positive notes of 'This Could Be The Day', which is enlivened by wonderful strings and has Grant singing of the "sun lighting the way". The title track itself is a delightful three minutes, which not only shows how well his vocal blends with a female but also showcases his intricate guitar playing.

'Darkstar' features the aforementioned harmonica and is a close cousin to tracks from Love and Money's 'Littledeath' album, with rhythmic acoustic guitar that give an edgy feel, underlined by lyrics like "fly a kite near the power line'. There are slower more introspective moments too, with 'Is This The Kiss?' and 'The Hallowing Touch', which take longer to engage, but are rewarding after a few listens.

Met with much excitement by his fans when released on the web, this album is Grant's best solo offering and he deserves wider appreciation. Perhaps the glorious 'Lake Louise' could do it, a single if I ever I heard one, but the best moment is the nine minutes of 'My Father's Coat', a mean and moody epic tale of a disturbing journey involving ghosts and a sarcophagus.

Rating: 3.5/5