Wednesday 19 August 2015

Sweet Baboo - The Boombox Ballads

Article by KevW

"You seldom write about yourself, which is something I can never do". And therein lies the problem for Stephen Black, AKA Sweet Baboo. Having released acclaimed music in the past and been categorised as a "singer-songwriter", the Welshman wanted to avoid the negative connotations that come along with that tag and try to be just a "singer". But how do you distinguish between the two when you're a solo artist who composes almost all of your own material? Well, it can be done. Think of classic singer-songwriters and names such as Neil Young, Joni Mitchell or Bob Dylan might spring to mind. But as he correctly points out, that label doesn't pin itself so firmly on people like Scott Walker or Harry Nilsson. You could say the same about Bowie, Kate Bush or any number of other artists. It's the whole one man and his guitar thing that tends to seal your fate when it comes to categorisation.

'The Boombox Ballads' may be a slightly misleading title; you're unlikely to find this womping out the back of some boyracer's car as he overtakes, but a different working method an a few extra touches have pulled him away from the pigeonhole he tried to avoid. Truth be told, Sweet Baboo is too good to be lumped in with the Ed Sheerans and Ben Howards of this world, so he needn't have worried, but pushing for a change in sound is often a good idea, and its served him well here. Arranger Paul Jones was brought in for the first time to offer a tweak in style and also as a collaborative figure, and the album's centrepiece (which Black says is inspired by Scott Walker) is a perfect example. A glorious, sweeping piece titled 'You Got Me Time Keeping' includes a multitude of instruments and a shared male/female lead vocal. It's really quite something. The track 'I Just Want To Be Good' is another highlight that sees Sweet Baboo coming across as the singer he intended. The track was written about him by Cate Le Bon and his voice sounds just fantastic, as do the arrangements which are closer to Le Bon's alt-pop psych than acoustic strumming.

Other tracks such as 'Sometimes' is just one man and his guitar for large sections and it's difficult not to put the taboo tag on him, but the instrumental breaks are quite lush with a hint of Brian Wilson to them and also a cinematic feel. 'Two Lucky Magpies' also benefits from a cinematic arrangement that brings to mind Jack Nitzsche or even George Martin's string sections for The Beatles, and those are rarely bad attributes. It's easier to forget the whole thing with indiepop tracks like 'Got To Hang On To You' which talks about the northern soul scene and has a classic feel and some great harmonies, and the piano-led 'You Are Gentle' with its flashes of brass feels more like a band and comes close to being baroque. With 'Walking In The Rain' you find yourself touching on easy listening, but the arrangements are spot on and combined with the lyrics it really puts a smile on your face. The ragged, off-kilter title-track seems like an odd fit for the LP at first, but after a few plays it's actually well placed. By the time the final couple of tracks come around the whole genre concern is forgotten, and if Sweet Baboo hadn't mentioned it then it probably wouldn't have come to mind. 'The Boombox Ballads' just feels like a natural progression for a singer and, yes, songwriter, who's decided to embellish his music a little more and picked the perfect team to do so with. His best work to date.

Sweet Baboo's website

Buy the album

Catch him live:

20th – 23rd August - Green Man Festival, Wales (with The Pictish Trail)
16th Sept – Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
17th Sept – Leaf, Liverpool
18th Sept – Leadmill, Sheffield
19th Sept – King Tuts, Glasgow
20th Sept – The Crescent, York
22nd Sept – The Rainbow, Birmingham
23rd Sept – Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club, London
24th Sept – Lamplighter, Northampton
25th Sept – Cluny 2, Newcastle
26th Sept – Deaf Institute, Manchester
27th Sept – Bodega Social Club, Nottingham
30th Sept – Thekla, Bristol
1st Oct – The Old Market, Brighton
2nd Oct – Revelation St Mary’s, Ashford
3rd Oct – The Globe, Cardiff

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