Journeys is, for Stewart Clark, that difficult third album. I reviewed the previous one, Let’s Go There, early last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it, the album finally ending up in my year end top five. But what would I make of the follow up?
The cover photo for Journeys is from somewhere in the Forest of Dean, a place used for filming Dr Who, Star Wars and Merlin – an otherworldly place, so no Roger Deanesque representation from Stewarts’s other half, Heather, this time, which is a shame.
The stakes have been raised and the production is much more polished this time around, particularly with Mr Clark’s vocal. It is more distinct and has its own character this time – and very nice it is too; slightly Howard Jones, but with a Prog style. Soundwise, it has more aspects of progressive music than previously. Is it better? Yes, in many ways, and every song is nice, with a couple outstanding, and it will sit nicely alongside the last one.
With the piano intro to Snaeffellsbaer (the Abandoned Icelandic Road Trip), the journey begins into a ten-minute synopsis of going nowhere fast. The trials of travel in Iceland. It has a feel of America about it – the band, not the country – but also some early seventies prog rock, things that you might think make it sound clichéd and dated. It isn’t at all, it sounds contemporary, warm, and fuzzy. Like all good albums, the familiarity that comes with repeated listens makes you wait in anticipation, and it does have a sing-a-long quality. ‘Nice’ is a word that can sound tired and innocuous, but this album is nice, and enjoyable, with tracks I’m sure will be loved. Snaeffellsbaer grows in the telling, apparently jumbled pieces of music describing a fraught trip with lots of fishing – a sort of act of cod? – but the music combined with humorously written lyrics brings a smile. As Kate, his travel companion, references Kate Bush’s 50 Words for Snow, they note that they found a number more.
I Wish They’d Stayed is a lovely little tune, again without plagiarism but you find it reminiscent of other tunes. So many notes and arrangements, and this original piece hits those hook buttons. With Journeys, the material is fresh, some even radio friendly; I’m thinking Radio 2 rather than the already converted Progzilla. It is music that is hard not to smile along with, carrying as it does an underlying feeling of optimism, and humorous references.
No Place Like You is a title which might suggest ’70s Caravan or Camel, and musically it sits comfortably with those two bands. The tunes jog on nicely, the breaks fitting, the lyrics poetic, carrying a rhythm of their own. You can have it on in the background and time flies by, or sit and listen, so many little tweaks and nuances, a warmth that rewards.
I Remember the Age of Steam revels in the sound effects used, nostalgia in the Big Big Train mould, yet with a west coast Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young feel; Thomas, The Railway Children and Casey Jones (a steaming and a rolling) all get a mention, and there’s even a touch of skiffle. It’s fun picking out the references. Play it loud with a decent separation and the fixed grin will hold steady.
It is not a long album, and soon enough we arrive at the next stage of the journey, Let Me Belong. If it is Stewart’s intent to build a stage repertoire, he is doing very well, and with the right backing promises an entertaining and enjoyable set. The solos here are as good as many of the past guitar gods, but never at the cost of the song. Familiar and new, but certainly nothing you would not want to revisit. I do think Mr Clark’s work would benefit from live performance, in that atmosphere life develops, songs change – for better or worse – but they start to have character which in turn becomes part of the artist’s DNA. Here they are warm and friendly, but it would be interesting to watch them – and Mr Clark – grow. As he grows, he has attracted the attention of Prog cognoscenti – Dave Bandanna and Billy Sherwood, to name but two, appearing here. This speaks volumes (play it loud) of his talent.
On A Leaf, On A Stream is thoughtful, reflective and beautiful. Enough said. An epic ending to a strong album ends our journey, or starts a new and expansive one with Travels in Hyperspace, a musically meandering piece that takes you to differing sights and sounds. A multitude of styles seamlessly blended that again delivers you to a welcome destination, from the Yes-like intro and passages of Genesis, an invitation to climb on board. I think I will.
01. Snaefellsbaer (The Abandoned Icelandic Road Trip) (10:42)
02. I Wish They’d Stayed (5:02)
03. There’s No Place Like You (8:21)
04. I Remember the Age of Steam (4:46)
05. Let Me Belong (5:37)
06. On A Leaf, On A Stream (4:42)
07. Travels Through Hyperspace (2:57)
Total Time – 42:07
Stewart Clark – Vocals, 6 & 12-string Acoustic Guitars, Bass
Eric Bouillette Perso – Piano Intro & Outro (track 1)
Steve Scott – Keyboards & Guitars (tracks 1,3,4,5 & 7), Bass (7)
Charlie Mear – Bass (track 1)
Dave Shalloe – Percussion & Strings (tracks 1 & 4), Acoustic Guitar (6)
Mark Norton – Saxophone (track 1), Harmonica (4)
Kerry Mountain – Heavy Guitar (track 1)
Tom Potten – Organ (track 1)
Katherine Potten – Backing Vocals (tracks 1 & 3)
Ian McKenzie – Drums (tracks 1,2,3,4,5 & 7)
Dave Bandanna – Keyboards (track 2)
Sepand Samzadeh – Guitar (tracks 2 & 6)
Gary Piears-Banton – Bass (track 2)
Billy Sherwood – Bass (track 3)
Cain Paisley – Guitar Solo (track 5)
Gavin Matthews – Bass (track 5)
Anne-Claire Rallo – Keyboards (track 6)
Kerry Mountain – Guitar (track 7)
Record Label: Turn Blue Records
Country of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 18th February 2022