Michael R Shaw “How Is This Helping?”

Independent, 2022

With a distinct voice, Shaw makes sure that the time taken getting to know him through his songs is well spent.

Michael R Shaw is the first to admit that recording on your own is hard, but he was forced into doing so during what he so accurately dubs as “the dreaded lockdown”; however, he came to find a strange and unexpected freedom in it. “Nothing moves unless you know about it,” he reflected. “In truth I’m not sure that ‘on my own’ is where I function best. To begin a project however, I now feel that there aren’t many better ways.” So begin recording ‘How Is This Helping?’ that way he did before bringing in producer James Youngjohns, someone who Shaw has said helped him focus less on the lyrics and more on the instrumentation, and ultimately, gave the album a “unifying identity”.

“I know every justification / For every situation / And I change my mind when / It suits my mind to suit / Not because I changed my mind / It’s what you put in front of me / That drive me to be the me that is me,” Shaw speaks more than sings on the opener ‘Lord of All’, his flat Northern English vowels adding an unusual texture against winding, acoustic guitar. ‘A Little Bit of What You Fancy’ begins with an Ennio Morricone-style introduction, the wavey, ethereal lone echo of a woodwind instrument before things switch gears to a sound more chilled indie than Spaghetti Western. “When all the numbers do suggest / That just a little bit of what you fancy / And a great fat dollop of what you want / Will do you good,” Shaw philosophises, so laid back that he would give The Dude a run for his money.

Some gentle harmonies ease you into ‘Matter’, but don’t get too comfortable as the lyrics ultimately reveal the whole viewpoint to be quite nihilistic: “We go debating the words / In our knowledgeable circles / Aiming the shots at some spongey targets / And when we bullseye / We don’t make a difference.” ‘Giving It Away’ has a more hopeful outlook to the future (“Just around the corner / There’ll be better days / We’ll be sipping on shampoo / And slurping on oysters / You mark my words”), although it’s up for interpretation if Shaw is being entirely sincere, especially with the mournful tinge his vocals hold.

‘The Unelectable Liar’ could – depressingly – apply to so many recent figures who have held the highest position of public office, although “The king that nobody wanted / The emperor with the all too visible clothes / He wears the comfortable attire / Of an unelectable liar” does sound especially well suited to Boris Johnson. ‘Freeze’ finds Shaw pleading with a loved one to follow him to wherever that may be, while on the other end of the heat spectrum, ‘The Warm Sun’ muses that depressive thoughts are that much easier to deal with in secure and outwardly happy circumstances.

As far as exactly what the album represents, Shaw would much rather the listener draw their own conclusions than for him to spell them out in black and white. “I’d love to talk to you about that in time,” he said. “Just for now though, I think it’s more appropriate that people form their own views.” Indeed, his storytelling isn’t always crystal clear and the themes shift throughout, but still there is a lot of fun to be found in pondering his meanings, be that in the years ahead or even just for now.

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About Helen Jones 133 Articles
North West based lover of country and Americana.
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