Sometimes the charm of a record can be in its deficiencies. Some rough edges, occasional serendipitous errors or just plain bum notes can give life to a piece, especially in an age where the four-to-the-floor, autotuned product can seem the norm. Listening to an album warts and all can bring us closer to the artist and the live experience. It’s why some bands like to go for the ‘live in one take’ style in the studio. Too forensic an approach to getting all the parts exactly right, perfect if you like, can suck the lifeblood out of a record.
Unfortunately, St Augustine’s Heart, by Ceri James and the Three Fifths, falls somewhere between the two stools and suffers as a result. Whilst there is a quirkiness and homespun feel to Ceri James’ songs and lyrics, some of the playing and singing is simply not tight enough. Maybe this is a deliberate approach, to give the songs more of a live feel. Unfortunately, it detracts and distracts from what might otherwise be some strong material.
There are some neat and insightful lyrics, on subject matter you that might not normally expect. ‘Where’s My Art Garfunkel?’, for example, is something with which many jobbing musicians could no doubt empathise: the search for a fellow muso to do justice to their creative genius. Elsewhere, as in ‘Austere Crimes and Hard Times’, Ceri delivers some biting judgements on modern life, referencing war in syria, paedophilia investigations, and general themes of austerity and hard times. Its like an americana mashup of Martin Stephenson and the Dainties with Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine. Ceri’s South London heritage, humour and experience, during which James busked to make ends meet, are firmly on show.
Depending on how forgiving a listener you are, the album might be thoroughly charming. Alternatively, you might consider the album misses a ‘professional’ feel, with a lack of care and attention on the delivery. Ultimately though, this feels like a very personal album, one that James and the band did because they needed to get it ‘out there’. I imagine it will go down a storm with the local fan base, family and friends in South London, but I’m not sure it will take the nation by storm.