Beautiful lap steel guitar with poignant lyrics.
The first thing to say about KB Bayley is what an excellent lap steel guitarist he is. This album is full of beautiful music, beautifully played. It has a calming and soothing quality without being soporific; your heartbeat and blood pressure drop as you listen.
‘Flatlands’ is the follow-up to the critically acclaimed 2021 ‘Little Thunderstorms’. On it, Bayley sings alone and plays mostly alone with two vintage mics capturing the sound of him picking his Weissenborn guitar, giving the music a sparse, unvarnished feel. Bayley says: “I wanted to share these songs and stories in their most raw form, and I wanted to celebrate my love of the Weissenborn guitar as a unique storytelling instrument.” On two tracks harmonica is added and there is soft felt piano on another.
The picking reminds you of the country-folk of Townes Van Zant and some of John Moreland’s work. A slide is used at times to give a blues sound, for example on ‘Year Zero’ and on his cover of Kelly Joe Phelps’ ‘The Black Crow Keeps On Flying’. The latter is one of four covers, all of which work well. Jean Ritchie’s ‘The L and N Don’t Stop Here Anymore’, written in 1965 and also covered by Michelle Shocked and Johnny Cash, is an engaging tale of the singer’s coal-mining father. Bayley’s version of Jason Isbell’s ‘Maybe It’s Time’ is a good listen and he improves Tom Waits’ brief ‘Johnsburg, Illinois’ by giving it more melody.
Bayley has penned six other songs himself, with often poignant lyrics. The title track ‘Flatlands’ details a return to a loved place with memories of someone, perhaps a friend: “we bought kentucky whiskey/said we’d drink it by the sea/tell that girl you love her/carve your names into a tree”. ‘Driftwood Avenue’ speaks of his upbringing in a seaside town and he wants to stop time to hold onto his lover in ‘Time Machine’.
‘Flatlands’ was produced after a time of personal difficulties for Bayley and this is perhaps mirrored in ‘World Without You’ with the lyrics: “keep my hands inside my pockets so no-one sees them shake/ keep my heart inside my coat so no-one hears it break” An album that vividly showcases Bayley’s love for roots music, both old and new, and particularly his love of the Weissenborn guitar.