The self styled “Rutland Troubadour,” Paul McClure releases his second album, Songs For Anyone, in January. His debut album, Smiling From The Floor Up, released in 2014 was a fine affair, in the main one man and his guitar which Blabber’n’Smoke likened to an old favourite, Loudon Wainwright III, although we did note that the extra instrumentation on some of the songs added that little bit of chutzpah. It’s unlikely that this caused Mr. McClure to cast around for musicians for his follow up album but cast around he did and the results are generally cause for celebration.
Songs For Anyone, an album of ” songs about love; trying to get it, trying to keep it, trying to understand it, and just getting on with it…” according to the man himself, is a band album. It’s loose limbed at times, a hootenanny of sorts, the songs purveyed with a fine sense of the here and now. McClure’s apparently the man for house concerts and here he recreates one on disc although it would need to be a large room in order to accommodate the instrumentation. He plays several (acoustic guitar, harmonica, mandolin, ukulele and percussion) while producer Joe Bennett adds his panoply of strings and things (bass, lap steel, piano, organ, violin, banjo, trumpet and percussion). Along with Michael Monaghan on drums and Hannah Eton-Wall (from The Redlands Palomino Co) on backing vocals the stage is set for some excellent country, confessional folk and soulful love songs.
The freewheeling Gentleman’s Agreement opens the album with a flourish. Rooted in Laurel Canyon 70’s country style it glides along with the ease and comfort of early Eagles back when they were in torn denim. Unremarkable Me relocates from LA to Muswell Hill as McClure busks away on a song that details a humdrum life brightened by his partner’s forbearance that could have been penned by Ray Davies. Likewise I Could Be A Happy Man could have been plucked from the Kinks’ “country period” and here McClure paints a fine picture of a satisfied mind describing a late night jam with the band and outings with his family, the bumpy country vibe resonant of cobblestones, not freeways, with Bennett’s fiddle adding a nice indolent atmosphere.
Emboldened (and encouraged by his producer) McClure visits several styles on the album. There’s his harmonica playing troubadour set up on Holding A Ten Ton Load and My Big Head Hat Of Dreams, both slightly Dylanesque (with some Chuck Prophet thrown in on the former and some Mariachi on the latter). The introspective singer/songwriter is portrayed on the gentle Yesterday’s Lies, a string laden lament with some great harmonies, and Don’t Take Me Under which is one of the mightier songs here. Organ and stinging lap steel add some emotional heft to McClure’s vulnerable opening stanzas, his voice here passionate and yearning, similar to Elvis Costello but without the bile. McClure outdoes this however on the stripped back guitar ballad Everyday Is Mine To Spend where he and Eton-Wall sing together in best duo fashion (take your pick, Gram and Emmylou, George and Tammy) and they repeat this trick on the excellent So Long, a waltz of sorts that spins around some fine band playing with piano gently guiding the star crossed lovers amid some excellent percussion. A song to savour indeed but exceeded by the swoonful, Pink Floyd like (indeed) bucolic beauty of A Song For Anyone that is just, (excuse the bathos here) heavenly.
Songs For Anyone is a deeply romantic album that has its moments of joy and sadness, all wonderfully conveyed with some brio and hopefully Mr. McClure will have the resources to deliver it live with his compadres. On this showing, solo or accompanied, he’s one to watch out for in 2016.