Americana by way of Belfast isn’t the most common or obvious choice of style or genre for someone to land on. That isn’t to say there aren’t any homegrown Americana bands in town, just that they’re relatively few and far between. Which isn’t exactly surprising, as it’s a particular niche that’s predicated on whether or not the band, especially the singer, can make it work. Maintaining a Belfast accent while blending it with the rugged, musky, whiskey-soaked textures of open-road America leaves a very fine line of a balancing act, as there is an easy danger of veering into unintentional musical comedy.
Thankfully, SLOW AUTUMN’s bandleader Andy McClenaghan is able to walk the line with ease. His vocal delivery is the best element of ‘Wash Me in the Fading Light’, the band’s latest release. A five track EP that, true to the band’s name, was recorded over an early Autumn weekend last year, it’s a very feet-on-the-ground, eyes-on-the-sky, very human collection of songs that deal with the richness of everyday life – pain, peace, love, and joy. Replete with simple metaphors as well as moments of raw, unguarded introspection, the release is noticeably lacking in guff, which is vital considering its slim 20-minute length.
Kicking off with ‘Coming Back Around’, it’s clear from the get-go that these are musicians who fit well together. The song starts with a bouncy, drum-driven sequence that has McLenaghan’s guitar lap itself over the keyboard chords of Andy Douglas in a way not dissimilar to some energetic Springsteen tracks. Drummer Joe Stevenson has a lightness of touch that adds a great deal to the record’s overall feel while bassist Simon Hetherington goes the traditional route of keeping things simple and restrained, half-buried notes laying the melodic foundation for the wonderful interplay between keyboard and guitar.
Third track ‘Hush Brother’ is a particular stand-out and contains all the elements that make the EP worth listening to. The melodies employed are exceptional, as are the actual recorded sounds of the instruments themselves. The keys create a sense of expansion behind the lyrics, and every so often a guitar line enters that adds a lot of heft to the emotional weight of the track, which is fitting considering it has some fairly raw, self-interrogative lyrics such as, “Why do I get strange when good things happen to my friends?”. This raw, human quality is found throughout the EP, and the fact that it was recorded live certainly helps maintain this, and it’s something which is even more welcome than usual as we enter into the soullessness of the era of AI ‘art’.
‘1983’ and ‘Stars on Summer Nights’ are both incredibly tender tracks. It is obvious that they were written from a deep well of love that has accumulated over time. The lyric “when we lie down together, we make our own heat” is particularly poetic, both in its delivery as well as the simplicity of its metaphor which is set against a timely backdrop of changing seasons and morning frost. It’s the kind of thing that artificial intelligence can attempt to emulate, and might get close, but will never be able to have the same heart behind it.
While the EP certainly reinvents no wheels, and has moments where the lyrics are a little on the nose or just don’t quite work, it is a charming slice of life that embraces the glories and the grit of being human.