This is Stuart A Staples’ second solo release in littlemore than a year since the demise of theTindersticks. If Lucky Dog Recordings was himtentatively stepping out on his own, then Leaving Songs isa stylish samba.
It is the sound of a confidence restored. Thesongs on Lucky Dog sounded like the Tindersticks inmonochrome – bare and exposed. Leaving Songs is fuller, awarm inviting collection of songs. A full bodied vintage toLucky Dog’s homebrew.
Country undertones have always characterised Staples’ work.It’s the warped country soul of Lambchop, thelighter moments of Nick Cave or the sadly missedRockingbirds. Country fused with sweeping strings,film noir twists and an English perspective. To record thesongs in Nashville makes twisted sense – Leaving Songs islighter, more open then much of Tindersticks’ output. IfStaples’ former band is the sound of heartbreak at 3am thenthis is the dawn breaking and the sun flooding in.
Those vocal chords it all there whiskey soaked crumpledglory stand proudly a the centre. Anyone unfamiliar with thesound it makes should think Mark Lanegan or laterTom Waits with a half glass of ruby redLeonard Cohen. Full of dark shadows, hiddencreases, flecks of bitter disappointment and ripples ofanticipation. I voice lived in and full of life.
The opening lines on the record are “It’s not that Idon’t love you or I am tired of your ways… but I catchmyself in the mirror and remember I have to do somethingwith my life.” Welcome to the restless world of Stuart AStaples. These are songs of doubt, of leaving and arriving.Ugly uncomfortable truths are reviled and probed.Staples doesn’t flinch from confronting himself and his failings.
All the self analysis and endless questioning couldresult in a turgid and bleak listen. The breezy nature ofthe music ensures that this is never the case. The pianoplaying throughout is flawless, the melodiessharp, the playing restrained, arrangements spot on.Every note is judged, nothing is over egged, and there is noshowboating. Like classic soul music, everything issubjugated to the service of the songs.
On Which Way the Wind, the piano blends with arecurring funky organ riff and gentle strings. Deep rollingpiano chords echo through the opening Goodbye Friend,providing a base for the delicate guitar part and prettyrhythm guitars. Terry Edwards, whosebrass arrangements added so much to the sound of Tindersticks, is alongside Staples here. The warm brassadds bite and zest to the material.
There are two duets -This Road Is Long sung with Maria McKee and ThatLeaving Feeling with Lhasa de Sela. Both artistsbring dazzling contrast and incisive radiance to Staplesshadowy baritone. McKee’s voice is world weary, stained andbroken, several lifetimes away from the woman who sangShow Me Heaven. It sounds like she has spent the last tenyears drinking whiskey and trying to escape her ghosts.And it’s beautiful.
Leaving Songs is not a huge stylistic leap forward, but that’s not a cause of worry.When you have songs this tight and asound this rich there is no need to rush and change things.If you loved Tindersticks then you will adore this. Ifyou have never heard that voice before and like your musicbruised, romantic and aching then you are in for areal treat.