All things for a reason - Reviews
Alan West - All things for a reason
Heartfelt, passionate, and literate modern take on classic country.
Alan West has been on my radar for several years now. Quite a few of my friends who appreciate quality country music travel hundreds of miles to see his concerts. But, apart from a CD a friend played on a long car journey, West has passed me by. It’s been my loss, if All Things for a Reason is anything to go by.
While the troubadour has been on the British country scene for a long time, this is only his third album, which probably tells you more about our fans' snobbishness rather than West’s work ethic.
Sitting somewhere between Tom Russell, Glen Campbell, and perhaps Roger McGuinn, West’s sweet voice, intelligent songs, and melodies are nearly the polar opposite of the alt-country I normally like; but this album has been like a breath of fresh air, as it came in the middle of a very mediocre run of albums to
Several songs -- including my favourites -- feature some enchanting fiddle playing from Justin Moses, who complements the vocals and guitar playing like a master craftsman. He never intrudes, and always supports. The best examples are "Numbers" and the Texicana-influenced "Maria Dolores", which I found quite spine-tingling.
Even on the first listen, when Mrs. H was telling me something very important, the quirky hillbilly tune "Woodbines" stood out, meaning I had to make a mental note to go back to it ASAP. I did and it was even better the second and each subsequent play. While the majority of songs are either by or co-writes with another English country singer-songwriter named Steve Black, West chooses an odd song to cover... or is it? "Take Me Home Country Road" was one of those country songs that topped the pop charts in my youth, before I even knew what country music was. This raw, stripped-back arrangement features some amazing guitar, fiddle, and mandolin interplay, which not only gives it a new lick of paint, but a whole refurbishment. It is well worthy of radio play.
The album closes with the introspective title track, "All Things for a Reason", and it’s a case of keeping the best for last, as all that is good with this album gets wrapped together in one neat parcel.
Harrison Photos for No Depression
Friday, 2 January 2015
Alan West - All Things for a Reason : Neo Music
Like an anchored buoy in a sea of change, Alan West is prepared to stand firm amongst the contemporary new wave attaching itself to UK country music. Not afraid to mix it with the young pretenders (including hosting a mid-winter festival featuring many and playing C2C pop up stages), Alan is acutely in touch with his perception of country music and ALL THINGS FOR A REASON refuses to budge from a deep passion installed many years ago.
Alan first crossed my path around half a dozen years ago when supporting Hal Ketchum in Wolverhampton and although active on the UK scene for a number of years, this new album is only his third studio release. However, alongside his long term accomplice Steve Black, Alan has recorded an album strong on principle and a timely reminder why country music possesses genre credentials. Questions are often raised about British artists positioning their mind 4000 miles west when making music, but Alan fully understands the country music market having some affiliation with the romanticism of American culture and he refrains yielding from these shared ideals.
For the eleven tracks that add up to the sum of this full length release, two are borrowed, with the remainder predominately coming from the trusted pen of Steve Black. The most striking of these solo writes is the quintessential American storytelling epic ‘Numbers’. The style and theme may be far from virgin ground but the song is expertly constructed and delivered with its developing heartfelt sentimentality. While the themes of many songs are explicitly wrapped in the Star Spangled Banner such as ‘Come on Home’ and ‘Hillbilly Woodbines’, Alan wisely steers clear of pseudo accents and thus retains authenticity in being a trusted interpreter of international country music.
Released on UK independent label NEO Music, ALL THINGS FOR A REASON had its final stages of fruition come together in a Nashville studio, often the ‘go to’ destination for the recording of a country album. Nashville has also played an important role in the career of acclaimed US songwriter Hugh Moffatt who kindly donated the album’s second track ‘The Way Love Is’. The other borrowed tune is far more familiar and Alan unashamedly hasn’t dug too deep for it. Admittedly, up tempo versions of ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ are more suited to this John Denver classic but this hasn’t deterred Alan going in the opposite direction leaving the listener to ultimately decide on whether it works.
Other tracks of noteworthy on the album, although it has to be said that each one is there on merit, include the Tex-Mex border feel to ‘Maria Delores’ and ‘It Pays To Be’ which takes the award of being the most retro friendly track, cue a rustle through Hank’s back catalogue to find its inspiration. Alan’s sleeve notes use the analogy ‘all things for a reason’ to explain the lengthy gap between releases and follows this by using the album’s title as the closing track thus preaching the philosophy of never giving up.
The true beneficiaries of this theory are the listeners to ALL THINGS FOR A REASON and they will be grateful that Alan and Steve persevered with the making of the record. Engaging and interesting songs supported by musicianship curated to provide the essential country sound make this an album worth investing in. It also provides a focal point on the UK scene to ensure contemporary artists don’t drift too far away from the ideals of country music.
Three chords and the truth
ALL THINGS FOR A REASON
If you’re a music fan who loves true, honest, down-to-earth country music songs, based on hard life lessons and affairs of the heart, then Alan West is your man.
With the honest and real vocal delivery that this Devon man is renowned for, this collection of songs is a true blend of old-school sensibility and the sound of today’s contemporary standards. Most of the songs are penned by the vastly underrated Steve Black, with Jim Almand joining in as co-writer on the wry He Ain’t Foolin’ Me and Alan West being co-writer on the title song and Fine Line.
There are two outside songs; the first is Hugh Moffatt’s beautifully romantic The Way Love Is, a song I’d not heard for years. Alan West has too good a voice and taste to get over-sentimental and with an acoustic guitar opening this affecting song develops into a minor understated gem with a heartfelt vocal and on-the-mark harmonies. The second is John Denver’s Take Me Home Country Roads, an excellent song I first heard way back in 1972, but Alan West and his skilled studio musicians turn the song around completely. Instead of the familiar wistful sing-along version we all know, here we’re treated to a dark, haunting rendition as Alan sings wearily about returning home, with heavy trepidation in the background provided by forlorn fiddle and the doleful mandolin. I just love it when an artist can take a well-known song and create a totally different feel and meaning from the original. In my book that is the mark of true artistry.
Steve Black’s songs are full of colourful characters and frank commentary. His melodic and lyrical constructions travel various, always unique paths as they unravel. Songs as oddly wonderful as Maria Delores, a compelling character study of a mysterious beautiful woman or the epic Numbers, that links together the frailty of life and death across generations and world-wide historical events all dressed up in a superlative musical arrangement that enhances Alan’s well-executed vocal and the meticulously crafted lyrics. Listen carefully to the lyrics of Hillbilly Woodbines, it’s a great example of really good songwriting. Alan’s singing sounds even stronger as he leans closer to what we used to know as mainstream country and colours and builds yet another of Steve Black’s compelling, lyrically proficient story-songs.
Throughout this exceptional album Alan West and his musicians hold that artistic high ground without becoming inaccessible. Steve Black’s songs will remind you of holograms: words and melodies evoke vivid visual images. It all adds up to one of the best albums I’ve had the pleasure of hearing this year and I guess will remain near the top of my essential playlist for a long time to come.
Album: All Things For A Reason
The last twenty years or so has seen a veritable explosion in the popularity of Country music. There are many reasons for this not least of all the quality of the current day artists. The old days when songs were written about dogs and parents dying are long gone. A somewhat cynical description of Country music in the old days perhaps and not one that I subscribe to but it was said to me by a good friend a few years ago and is fairly stereo typical of the old view of C&W.
Recording standards have improved greatly as has the quality of the musicianship. That is not to say that the previous Country offerings were poor, t
they were just very predictable. No more though!
The vast majority of successful Country stars are quite naturally American and most are based in the heartland of the music, Nashville. It is pretty rare to find an artist that has made it by not being from either of these bases. New Zealand born Keith Urban is one exception and now I would most certainly include Englishman Alan West as another.
Alan will be well known to devotees of Country music in the UK but less well known to those, like me, on the periphery of the genre. So what makes him so special? Years of experience, wonderful arrangements, great songs and a voice to make you sit up and listen. The voice is a mix of Kenny Rogers and the now sadly departed Dan Seals. Melancholy at times, very musical, and a total joy to listen to.
This album, the third studio album in Alan's career, was recorded in Nashville and spotlights Alan's talent in volumes. His writing with Steve Black, a performing co-partner too, is both imaginative and moving at times. For true emotion listen to the lyrics of "Numbers." The backing is also something to wonder at. "It pays to be" is what I would regard as being a typical Country song. A foot tapper with a bit of slide guitar thrown in. "Hillbilly Woodbines" starts with a superb few bars of fiddle and paints a wonderful picture of smoking and drinking in the backwoods of America. Not sure I have ever heard a cigarette advert in the title of a song before!
My favourite track on the album is a song that you will have all heard before sung by John Denver. "Take me home country roads." However, forget what you may have heard before. Alan's treatment of this iconic piece of music is truly wonderful and takes the song to a whole new level using minor instead of major chords. It just takes the song to a whole new level.
BBC's Bob Harris wrote "I have a very strong theory about all of this which has guided me through all the time I have spent surrounded by music, and that feeling is that if you are true to music, the music will be true to you and Alan West is the very much the embodiment of that for me." Coming from a well respected man such as Bob, those words must be music to Alan's ears.
This is an album that should be held in the library or PC of all Country music lovers and listened to at regular intervals. It is pure quality and will sound just as good in years to come.
Rory Stanbridge - Fatea magazine
Alan West – All things for a reason
For many UK Country fans more familiar with the big name stars recording in Nashville their introduction to Alan West may well have been during the Country to Country Festival at London’s O2 Arena, at which the experienced UK singer-songwriter has appeared on the incredibly well-received pop-up stages. Those who are in tune with the UK Country scene will be aware that West is one of the most respected names on the circuit and one of our finest artists. Having originally tasted success as part of a duo ‘West and Elliott’, who picked up 3 BCMA Awards and supported the likes of Guy Clark & Townes Van Zandt, Alan branched out on his own and released his debut album ‘Songs From A Neophyte’ in 2008. The success of that project saw the singer chosen to support US star Hal Ketchum on tour, amongst others.
A second album ‘The Way Of The World’ followed in 2010, as did a 6-track EP ‘The Way It Is’ recorded in Nashville in the same year. Fans have had to wait for some time for new music from West but last month he released ‘All Things For A Reason’, which upon repeated listening proves to be more than worth the wait. Distributed by independent UK label NEO Music and produced by the singer himself, its’ 11 tracks were again recorded in Nashville. The album sees West teaming up with long-time collaborator and songwriter Steve Black, who played a part in penning all but 2 of the songs featured. The pairing works remarkably well with West’s earnest and emotive delivery bringing to life Black’s richly composed lyrics.
‘Come On Home’ is a tremendous start to the album, a shuffle straight out of Bakersfield recounting the travails of a heartbroken woman, featuring jaunty fiddle and lively vocals from West. One of only two outside songs, ‘The Way Love Is’ written by Texan artist Hugh Moffatt, is a gently rambling ode to love, given a suitably tender reading here. Picking up the tempo and adding some Spanish flair ‘Maria Delores’, with its’ accordion & baritone saxophone, comes and goes seemingly as quickly as the the titular temptress and is an absolute joy.
The sombre ‘Numbers’ finds the singer in contemplative mood and deals with the loss of loved ones, one of the many examples of incredibly vivid storytelling amongst the album’s offerings. Songwriter Steve Black painting vivid pictures delivered with real grit & authenticity by West. ‘It Pays To Be’ promotes good advice for all men interacting with the fairer sex, but has its’ tongue firmly in its’ cheek, as well as boasting strong steel guitar & flowing honky-tonk piano. Both ‘Bobby’s Idle Hour’ and ‘Hillbilly Woodbines’ continue the exceptional knack of West & Black to create worlds which their protagonists inhabit and transport us there to share those moments. A special mention to the killer line in the former track and the run-down cellar bar it describes, ‘a silent jukebox waits to see if someone will buy a memory, good or bad‘.
The other cover version amongst such splendid original material is West’s take on ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, originally a huge hit for John Denver in the 1970’s. West handled the new arrangement of the track here, as well as freshening up the song he also adds a welcome edginess, not to mention a fabulous vocal performance. ‘Fine Line’ reflects on the difficulty of making life’s important choices and is musically more upbeat than the heavyweight lyrics would suggest. The classic Country of ‘He Ain’t Foolin’ Me’ is one of the numerous highlights West offers fans, and finds the singer bemused that the object of his affection cannot see that her current beau is not the one for her. Title track ‘All Things For A Reason’ closes the album and is an inspirational note on which to end. Musing on the ‘journey of life’ the stirring mid-tempo track advises us all to never give up hope, amidst driving percussion and a cracking electric guitar solo.
With his ‘All Things For A Reason’ album Alan West has given eleven incredibly good reasons to be thankful for that long-awaited return to the studio. Unashamedly traditional Country with a dash of Americana thrown in for good measure, West proves to be an artist as authentic as they come. In close friend Steve Black he seems to have found a kindred spirit and a songwriter of tremendous talent, able to provide the singer with material which fits him like a glove. As for West he has a warm and rich vocal delivery, with a real air of authority enabling him to expertly handle the album’s significant themes of life & love. Hopefully it will not be another 4 years before West next releases a collection of songs, until then ‘All Things For A Reason’ will remain an album to savour.
New Country UK
Alan West – All things for a reason
I’ve already documented within the pages of this blog my relatively late and somewhat accidental introduction to folk music…it’s fair to say I continue to surprise myself on that particular voyage of discovery.
What’s equally as surprising of late is that I’m finding myself inextricably drawn to country music, another genre that I really know nothing about but that I’m finding increasingly alluring. Maybe it’s only a short hop from folk to country….or maybe it started when I interviewed The Shires for FRUK a few months ago. I don’t really know the reason, I just know that there’s an undeniably increasing amount of country ‘twang’ emanating from my mac speakers.
So it was very pleasant to come across this recent release from UK country aficionado Alan West. It seems like Alan has been a big part of the UK country scene for the majority of his life…long before (I suspect) the relatively recent upsurge in country ‘coolness’ amongst UK listeners. Listening to the album, I definitely pick up a sense of credibility…Alan’s authentic and wonderfully understated delivery, of songs penned in the main by fellow artist Steve Black, warms the heart on the coldest February evening.
Favourite moments. ‘Fine Line’ is a wonderful little driving tune, while West’s cover of Hugh Moffat’s ‘The Way Love Is’ is beautifully performed. The highight for me though is ‘Hillbilly Woodbines’ which (at least in my uneducated mind) is everything a great country song should be: fiddle, pedal steel guitar and lyrics to take you to another place…”Sittin’ out on a back porch swing, listening to Merle Haggard sing..”. Class.
So whether you already know all about Alan West (in which case you’re probably reading this and thinking ‘of course he’s great you idiot!’), or whether like me you’re yet to navigate your way around the UK country scene, this a highly recommended album. Check it out ;)