Stacey McNeill & Jonathan Smith “Walking Barefoot”

Independent, 2022

Sweet melodies and strong, emotional lyrics from folk duo.

Album cover for "Walking Barefoot" by Stacey McNeill and Jonathan SmithFrom North Wales, Stacey McNeill and Jonathan Smith formed as a songwriting duo in 2020 when they realised that they had a musical compatibility. This is their fourth record since then and is a very good album full of interesting lyrics, sweet melodies, wonderful vocals from McNeill, and great support from Smith on their duets, where they complement each other very well.

Their music would be broadly categorised as folk, with acoustic guitar being the main instrument, and they were on the Main Stage at the Warwick Folk Festival this year. However, there are also tracks that are closer to americana and others which are more mainstream. Instruments such as piano and organ are added in to give a lush musical sound that is much less sparse than some folk music.

The album starts in a very engaging way with the duet ‘Lies’ which initially sounds like a falling out of love song: “It’s not your hand I want to hold/ It’s not your heart which captivates my soul”. It is only with the later lines “And maybe you’d believe me/ If I weren’t telling you lies” that the meaning becomes clear in a powerful way.

The second track ‘Pacific Waves’ has a calypso rhythm, echoes of Van Morrison’s ‘Brown Eyed Girl’ and a beautiful chorus with compelling imagery that shows the duo’s interest in the natural world:

“Will you be my anchor
If I say I’ll be your lighthouse in the darkest night?
We’ll dance on golden shores
While the moon showers the sea with silver light”

‘Almost Mine’ and ‘Running Out’ are two tracks that would not sound out of place on a female country album. In the first, a romance is again described using imagery from nature:

“Where we lay down on the ground among the heather
And I fell for you like a needle from the pines”

Love, romance, and relationships are common themes throughout with the aforementioned ‘Running Out’ discussing regret over a finished relationship and ‘Something’ telling of a meeting many years in the past, where a strong emotional connection was made but nothing came of it. ‘The Bed We Made’ reminds one lyrically of Gram Parsons’ ‘We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes’ in its description of passion that has taken a hold. The more mainstream ‘Blood On My Hands’ deals with anguish and guilt over a love lost and is a stirring ballad with piano.

Both McNeill and Smith have expertise in the field of mental health. Their experiences can be seen in ‘Hold On’ with the words:

“This is not the first time today
I’ve noticed my breathing
Counting every smallest intake
Inside I’m screaming”

In addition, the title track combines their interest in mental health and nature in urging the listener to keep going, despite difficulties and “Just keep walking through the forest/ In your bare feet”.

‘Walking Barefoot’ is an album that is strong both lyrically and musically and which would appeal to a wide range of listeners.

8/10
8/10

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