Atmospheric playing, dusty guitar and some compelling songs. An early year highlight.
There’s no sound more Americana than a Dobro guitar played with a slide. The opening of ‘Cold Rain’ the first song on KB Bayley’s album starts that way which is a good indicator of the style and quality of the rest of the album.
‘Blood Red Lullaby’ introduces some subtle electric guitar, to the ‘open-tuned Taylor and a Weissenborn” that makes up most of the instrumentation of the album. The electric comes courtesy of Dean Parker from London based Americana band Backwater Creek. The highlight of the album is the jazzy ‘Night Dogs’, with Parker on electric guitar again, and an uncredited Harmon muted trumpet right out of the Miles Davis school. An atmospheric haunting song, which is already going on the list for and end of year best of. Bayley says that ‘North Coast Girl’ is about his mum, and the imagery in that and many of the other songs is rooted in English Folk music as well as in Laurel Canyon. His press makes comparisons to Austin and Nashville, but that sells Bayley short. The feel is far more the bleak beautiful coast of the North East. Most obviously in ‘North Shore Road’ but also in ‘Time to Leave Town’. His songwriting influences range from James Taylor and John Prine to, most obviously, Tom Waits, but he wears the influences lightly and they never dominate the songs.
Bayley describes himself as a “guitar player, songwriter, composer. Lover of wood, steel, valves and song”. Having spent years as a sideman for all sorts of artists, including “The Philippines’ answer to Simon & Garfunkel” and providing “slide atmospherics and acoustic guitars” for TV soundtracks, the quality of the playing here was never going to be in doubt. Many of the “lockdown albums” that have appeared in recent months have ended up packed with overdubs, probably to give the artist something to do as much as anything. ‘Little Thunderstorms’ avoids the trap of overplaying and leaves space for the songs to breathe. An honourable mention must go to backing singer Claudia Stark, who makes valuable contributions to three of the songs.
The album closes with two short songs. An instrumental version of ‘Wayfaring Stranger (Redux)’ which finds us back on the Weissenborn guitar, with violin, again uncredited, providing the main refrain, and ‘Cheap Suit’ the most “American” song here, and the ideal coda to an album that is going to take some beating as a highlight of the year.