Andy Shauf “The Neon Skyline” (ANTI-,2020)

Imagine the scenario – you’re down the local with a mate and, suddenly, you find out that your ex is back in town. What do you do? Well, if you’re Canadian singer-songwriter Andy Shauf, you write a concept album about it. All of the 11 songs on ‘The Neon Skyline’, which was composed, performed, arranged and produced by Shauf, are linked by a narrative thread and make up a simple plot, which, let’s face it, could be the basis of a flimsy rom com – the narrator goes to his neighbourhood dive bar, The Skyline, meets his friend, Charlie, hears that his former girlfriend, Judy, has returned to the area, and, after he spends some time reminiscing about her, inevitably, she shows up. What happens next? Sorry – no spoilers here.

Shauf admits that the songs – which are all set over one night – are fictional, but says what inspired the album was the idea of one guy going back to a bar time and time again, which was a situation he could relate to.

If you were expecting dark, heavy and messed-up country, think again – there are jazzy tinges to many of these likeable, warm and folky pop songs, thanks to some playful brass arrangements and woozy clarinet, as well as echoes of the ’70s Laurel Canyon sound.

Opener, ‘Neon Skyline’, brings to mind Paul Simon – although it’s more ‘Me and Charlie go down than the pub,’ than ‘Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard.’  Final song, ‘Changer’, is the most Americana moment on the album – a gorgeous, drowsy, Wilco-like ballad.

Shauf experimented with tape machines while recording and chose to start writing each composition on guitar, rather than his usual piano, which, he says, led to them being more simplistic.

He’s a wry lyricist and a deft observational songwriter. There are several humorous moments – on the infectious and upbeat ‘Try Again’, which sounds like Norwegian indie duo Kings of Convenience, Shauf sings: “Somewhere between drunkenness and charity, she puts her hand on the sleeve of my coat. She says, “I’ve missed this.” I say, “I know – I’ve missed you too.” She says, “I was actually talking about your coat…”

There’s some nice imagery, too – on ‘Clove Cigarette’ he casts his mind back to spending happier days with his ex: … “that green plastic table with those green plastic chairs. And you’d touch my summer skin and you’d toss your golden hair.”

Listening to this album is like a decent night down the boozer with old friends – richly rewarding, funny, reflective and nostalgic. Just don’t forget to keep an eye out for who walks through the door…

A jazzy-folk-pop concept album set in a dive bar - wry observational songwriting
7/10

Author: Sean Hannam

Freelance journalist, editor and presenter. Digs retro specs,The Smiths,Dylan,Cash,Richard Hawley, Scott Walker, Lee Hazlewood, country / Americana and '50s/'60s pop.

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