It’s usually the sign of a very grown-up album indeed when the little moments are what’s important.
Not that Kick the Traces, the polished debut from Glasgow’s The Byson Family, doesn’t have its grand gestures, too. But it’s the subtle magic you remember: the way the piano on opening track Riches gathers momentum; the way the crescendo of You’ve Been a Fool is preceded by understated harmonica; the way the bassline commands the folk-meets-country direction of Cross the Line. The way that the slow-burners tend to recede to resting-pulse quietness before cresting new emotional waves.
Hard, then, to believe that the five-piece have only existed since 2019, coming together over their common love of American west coast sounds. That said, they might be considered something of a supergroup, at least in Scottish terms: fronted by former Temperance Movement vocalist Phil Campbell, they also include Christian Fleetwood (guitars and vocals) and Chris Russell (piano, keyboards and synth) from the 68s, along with Paulo Nutini’s bassist Michael McDaid and drummer Allan James (Jon Fratelli). The assemblage just seems totally right – the late-Sixties-inspired sounds feel wonderfully plush and coolly retro (and the production, by Fleetwood and Geoff Allan, is spotless). It’s a rich amalgam of folk and country and soul and blues, which references the likes of The Band, Neil Young and Gram Parsons, but ultimately cuts its own cloth.
As ever, Campbell’s golden-toned vocals are a revelation, though it’s true he’s exploring much mellower terrain here. On the breezy I Wish You No Ill he completely foregoes the Rod Stewart-esque end of his range – so heavily showcased with his former band – and you have to wonder whether this kind of project is just much closer to his heart. In 2018’s outstanding A Deeper Cut, the Temperance Movement produced one of the best Scottish rock albums in years and seemed on the verge of much bigger things; fans felt the frontman’s departure keenly, but there’s no question that this flavoursome, rootsy landscape suits him well.
And the grand gestures? Perhaps the grandest is the reworking of Angel of the Reckless, one of the standout numbers aired at a series of gigs in early 2020 before the world fell off its axis. At that time, it was arranged as a rocky acoustic a la Crosby, Stills & Nash. Since then they’ve only gone and added a horn section. They’ve also put the brakes on the rhythm so that the whole thing takes on the lazy, behind-the-beat feel of old gospel. It’s a brave move – and what’s been surrendered in lively jangliness is more than made up for in super-deluxe layers of melody. Then there’s Hope and Pray, by far the raunchiest proposition here, which begins with a burst of laughter from Campbell before hitting its big, funked-up groove. And when the deliciously soulful Blowout reaches its huge final chorus there really shouldn’t be a dry eye in the house.
Can a debut album also be a ‘coming-of-age’ album?
When it’s this assured, why the hell not?
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