Gothic Urban Blues – Harry Stafford (reviewed by Dave Franklin)

Some artists use their music merely as a delivery system for the lyrics, perhaps reasoning that the ability to make you think is more important than the ability to make you feel. Then again, artists who think like that rarely deliver music which makes you do either. Harry Stafford, thankfully, has delivered an album which makes you do both. Gothic Urban Blues is perfectly named too, a collection of songs from the dark, decaying back streets of the crumbling urban experience all under pinned with louche and lush, bluesy vibes.

And whilst lyrically he spins yarns of the city and its denizens and delinquents, the songs are also driven on by music which reflects the sound of the city itself, whether sonically painting images of the hustle and hassle of the urban sprawl, sketching the anatomy of a living entity throbbing with stifled life or describing the grubby romance and distant whisper of midnight’s empty streets. 

Whilst Stafford’s past music has been centred around the dark, post-punk guitar sound he wielded whilst fronting Inca Babies, his solo career has taken some interesting developments and he is now to be found in the eye of the sonic storm playing pianist instead. And it is perhaps this new approach to writing songs which has allowed more flexibility, more scope, more nuance. The songs are still often cocooned with raucous guitars, but the piano core and his love of bar-room blues ballads means that as often as not the music takes on a more spacious form and a more considered quality.

There are some obvious comparisons to be drawn, you could point out that he makes a more accessible Tom Waits or a less tormented Nick Cave but there is more than enough here to herald Stafford as his own man. Cruel Set of Shades is a cool, bluesy stomp and the muted trumpet just adds that sleazy, urban sound which is the icing on the cake to the album as a whole. Black Rain is a bar room piano player pouring out his troubles to anyone who will listen, Infinite Dust is perhaps a hymn to her, or a dream of escape, or just a reminder that every road leads somewhere, often to somewhere more exciting than where you currently are. It’s difficult to know for sure but that’s the great thing about Gothic Urban Blues, they might be Stafford’s stories but in a way they are our story’s too.

It’s a fantastic collection of songs, lamenting, celebratory, a love letter to a city as well as a cursing howl in the night, and the emotions are sad and dark but reflective and optimistic too. Heart-strings are tugged, dreams shattered, love dies, hope springs and the city just goes on, and on, and on, and on…

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