Steepways “Holy Smoke” (Mansion House Records 2017)

This is a strong first album from London songwriting duo Blair Chadwick and Charlie Bateson, operating under the nom de guerre of Steepways.
They’ve assembled a talented group of musicians around them – Drummer Jamie Shaw, pedal steel player Darren Buddell, Andy Fairclough on Hammond Organ and other keyboards (is there such a thing as a song that can’t be improved by the addition of a Hammond Organ?!) and Chris Clarke playing bass and making a major contribution as producer. They also have former Alabama 3 singer Siobhan Parr providing some outstanding backing vocals and a nice duet on penultimate track Rather Be Alone. 

All in all there is much to enjoy on this album. It comes roaring out of the traps with upbeat opener, Everything Won’t Do that really shows off the musical chops of all concerned. The pedal steel work is really first class and Chadwick and Bateson themselves are clearly good musicians as well as strong songwriters; Blair Chadwick does a very nice line in Telecaster twang and Charlie Bateson plays some very nice acoustic guitar throughout the album as well as some occasional banjo.

There are some great melodies on this album but they’re a little let down by the predictability of some of their lyrics. Their tunes really are their strong point, from the moody, atmospheric sounds of Radio Silence through to more barnstorming tracks like the aforementioned opener and the rockabilly influenced Chaperone.

At times the album is quite reminiscent of the Kinks early 70s Muswell Hillbillies record. The Kinks are cited as an influence on Chadwick and Bateson and you can hear it on a number of their tracks. Chadwick, as lead vocalist, has a very English sound to his voice which doesn’t always sit comfortably with some of the more American influenced arrangements,  the recording might have been better served by mixing up the lead vocals a little and letting Bateson take an occasional lead – but that’s nitpicking and they are on record as wanting to produce a style that combines both British and American roots influences; something they’ve done with aplomb on a very good first recording.

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