Friday, 25 January 2008

Top 100 Albums - #45: Silence Falls... (2006)

At number 45 is singer-songwriter Gethin Jones, with his first offering for WERL Records.Gethin Jones was born in 1986 and grew up in Carmarthen in Wales. His love of music began at a young age, and by the time he left high school he was well versed in guitar, piano, french horn and drums, as well as honing his skills as a singer. Heavily influenced by the likes of Damien Rice, Leonard Cohen and Antony & The Johnsons, he began writing his own music in 2001, and in 2004 he won a place at Warwick University to study Theatre and Performance Studies. While pursuing a successful career on the stage, especially in the hands of Music Theatre Warwick (MTW), he came to the attention of Warwick Exposure Record Label (WERL). In 2005 he began recording and playing sets in Leamington Spa.

'The Keyholder's Lullaby' is a fitting opener, introducing us to the style of Jones without being so comprehensive as to exhuast all imagination. There is a melancholy feel to the guitar, and the minor chords enhance Gethin's yearning voice. The lyrics might seem like your standard singer-songwriter fare, but of course that's not the most important thing; in this genre it is how authentic the delivery is which matters. And Jones has honesty in spades; there is not a whiff of cynicism or laziness in his voice as he crests the high notes with all the nerve of Ray La Montaigne.

Unfortunately, the next offering is a bit of a step backward. 'Empty' is quicker, not just in its tempo, but that it feels rushed. The big problem with this is that his voice is lost in the mix. Whether that is due to his delivery or the production is a matter to be disputed elsewhere (being a student record its production will be pretty basic - Jaffa Minute? EP (2005, #60) was a very good exception). The result, however, is that this loses a lot of emotional substance and cannot stand up to its predecessor.

'Puppet's Verse' returns us to the introspective, soul-searching sort of song which exemplifies Jones. Unlike 'The Keyholder's Lullaby', this brings out his Christian faith, with lyrics which smack of confusion and alienation:

Am I in control,
Or just a puppet for jaded souls?
Can I choose,
Or is this just a sport for God?

As for the instrumentation, the acoustic is bolder and fuller. If you listen carefully enough in the second verse, you will hear the gentle pickings of a non-descript electric guitar, which brings a sense of character to the piece. This is what Gethin does best, making music that is sensitive and from the heart without coming across as self-obsessed or just another angst-ridden student (if you still need proof, check out 'Regina' on the outtakes album The Silence Sessions (2007)).

'Missing You' brings together the romantic and spiritual strands of the previous songs, synthesising them into something relatively bright and jaunty. It is difficult to tell whether he sings about God or about his former girlfriend, Sophie Thomas, who plays violin on two tracks and to whom the album is dedicated. You hear one line which has a directly spiritual connotation, followed by an openly romantic one. The most interesting thing about this track, though, has to be the 'horn' part, which fits perfectly into the mix.

The title track abandons the guitar temporarily and replaces it with piano. When you hear the first few bars of Jones' voice over the keys, you are slightly perturbed, you think that he is singing out of key. In fact, this is a cunning device which sustains your interest as the guitar comes in and the song winds on to the chorus. This is yet another very good song from Jones, not least because it demonstrates his vocal range. It's not as good, however, as 'Wheels'. This is a punchy 3-minute single, complete with catchy riff and splendid, if subtle, harmonies. The riff tumbles out of his guitar as if he is caressing it, being well-complimented by his vocal performance, the best on the album because it is both emotive and restrained. This is the one track on here that you could honestly play over and over - it's that good.

The album closes with a twist. 'I Will Be' is a heartfelt, lullaby-tempo tune in the same vein as 'Puppet's Verse'; it almost has the same chord progression. It's richer, though, and more optimistic, like Rice's 'Cannonball'. This may have the same irritating thud of limited percussion as 'The Keyholder's Lullaby', but the violin more than makes up for it; it sounds so rich and warm against Gethin's lowest registers. But that is not the end. The hidden track, 'It's Me' (which begins at 5:10), returns to the outright minor chords, setting a funereal scene. Jones delivers the lyrics with all the creepiness of an octogenarian blues singer, and it's a very pleasing song, not least because it's quite a departure.

Many casual listeners and critics alike will brush this album aside as the dawdlings of yet another singer-songwriter, bored with essays and eager to share their self-annihilating misery with their peers. But for all its foibles, Silence Falls... does not fall under that banner. Even if acoustic folk rock isn't your weapon of choice, listening to this you do get a sense of the honesty that has gone into it. This doesn't feel like a random collection of banal and scattered poetry set to a three-chord blues; instead it feels like a journey of discovery. It manages to be introspective and personal without alienating three-quarters of the audience and boring whoever is left. And for that - being an acoustic record which doesn't cause death by boredom - this deserves a place on any chart.

3.86 out of 5

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