In today’s hyper-aware, 100mph, blink-and-you’ll-miss-everything-forever music business, it seems some new bands get signed by over-zealous, frothy-mouthed record labels before they’ve even written a riff or had their skinnies fitted.
It’s heartening, then, to see an example of an artist whose delightfully wobbly folk music has been honed naturally over the last few years. From playing in the unglamorous venues of Cardiff, optimistically selling half-baked demos to an audience mainly summoned by the headline band, to the relative success of releasing an album that is pretty damn lovely.
Sweet Baboo is Stephen Black. One man’s musical escapade that started with a Casio keyboard and his Dad’s acoustic guitar. In his early shows, Black seemed to delight in being a bit of a weird folker. Geeky, leftfield, and managing to portray a kind of faux-discomfort while remaining in complete control. He’d delight the crowd too – his music always carried with it an infectious ramshackle optimism.
The record is no different. And while the opening track is a bit bloated, it does a good job of introducing Sweet Baboo’s playful musical style and wayward lyrics: “I’ll tell you little stories that never really happened / Like that one about a seagull with a bandaged hand / That I shot down in the air like a man”.
It’s Three, Let’s Go is the first highlight, Four Tet-esque with its bright acoustics and jaunted rhythms. Little Bernadette is arrestingly beautiful – and sees Black struggle to narrate about death over a decadent acoustic backdrop. Hello Bullfrog, Hello Wave is also ear-catching.
There are two things about Hello Wave, however, that make it great. Simplicity, and a lack of pretence. There’s a transparency of songwriting that doesn’t hide behind a trendy haircut, it’s pure and heartfelt – and that makes the record massively engaging.
Black will win no awards for his vocals, but neither will be expect them. His voice often sits uncomfortably atop buoyant guitar lines, but it adds to the charm. He’s a wayward raconteur, his lyrics refreshingly obscure.
It’s warm, like a hug with an old friend. And like having a pint with that old friend, it’s easy to get on with. It doesn’t try to impress or show off, it just says what is necessary. And that, musically, is a very rare, and very brilliant quality.