Nostalgic and moving, this album is proof that everything old is new again.
‘April Moon’ is the first full album from Shadow Captain, but the man behind the alias – Liverpool singer-songwriter Stuart Todd – is far from inexperienced, having played with multiple bands and released music previously under his Christian name. But with this shadowy project (recorded pre-lockdown but tweaked within the time since), he hopes to step out into the light.
‘Lavender Way’ opens the album, and while it may seem like a lazy comparison for a Liverpool based artist, it’s impossible not to hear echoes of The Beatles in both the melody and the folky storytelling of the lyrics. “It’s rich tea and sympathy / When he recalls a memory / Always feeling life is wearing him down / He wallows in his misery / Without a sense of dignity / Always blames the neighbours getting him down / On Lavender Way,” goes the chorus with a jovial disposition. ‘Clandestine Lover’ strikes a different tone to the track before it, with Todd singing in a lower register and the vibe being altogether more melancholy classic country – pedal steel and all – and less light retro pop. “I’ve been a sinner with another man’s wife / She was a clandestine lover and I paid the price,” Todd bemoans of a failed affair.
“Every friendship must come to an end / So I drink to the death of a friend,” we’re informed mournfully at the beginning of ‘Death of a Friend’, a song written about Stan Ambrose, whose delicate harp playing can be heard on the song in question, adding a touching pathos. ‘The Pan Piper’ is a jaunty and folkish tale of a street musician whose charm wears thin with a pub landlord (“I arrive at the Tavern to settle a score / I spar with the landlord, who lays down the law / If I give him more trouble, he’ll show me the door”). On ‘Jenny and Oliver’, the flat vowels of Todd’s regional accent add an unexpected texture against a strong beat that contrasts the sadness of the lyrics about a past love who has long since moved on (“A part of me longs to be with her / The distance is only a mile / But Jenny’s with Oliver / It cuts like a knife into my heart”).
‘Hey Django’ is a sweet, upbeat love letter to a canine companion and the joy he brings into the world around him, while ‘April Moon’ is a decidedly more haunting reflection on first love. ‘Song for Gideon’ evokes an easy lounge-like melody against lyrics saluting Todd’s friend Gideon Conn: “I want you around for this melody / It’s a dedication to you from me.”
‘Going Solo’ – a song about remaining single and going solo in life as opposed to in a music career – is another upbeat vintage pop-rock standout, with a Yoko Ono name check further adding to the nostalgia and reminding again about those Beatles comparisons (“All my friends have got a Yoko Ono / It winds me up like a yo-yo / When it comes to love I’m minus zero / That’s why I’m happy going solo”).
While perhaps The Beatles and their Mersey Beat counterparts of the 60s do make for an easy comparison to draw here, it remains a comparison that is a badge of honour to wear – and one that takes a chunk of talent to be given.