Ten albums in and Peter Bruntnell remains something of a buried treasure, or, according to this excellent article in The Guardian, a “cult hero”. To paraphrase Jane Austen it’s a truth universally acknowledged that Bruntnell’s 1999 album, Normal For Bridgewater is a high water mark for UK Americana music and on Nos Da Comrade, 16 years later, he’s still on fire, delivering punchy power pop and sun dappled songs that invigorate the listener.
The album title pays homage to his Welsh roots (Nos Da Comrade Welsh for Good Night Comrade) and he opens the album with a nod to the plight of fellow Celts as he tears into Donald Trump’s attempts to bully Scots fishermen on the misleadingly upbeat Mr. Sunshine. The infectious and sunny melody camouflages the lyrical attack on the avaricious pseudo politician although there is some anger unleashed on the short blistering guitar solo (and do check out the video for this one!).
Recorded at Bruntnell’s home with a basic trio set up; Bruntnell on guitars and vocals, Peter Noone, bass and Mick Clews, drums (and some later overdubs from James Walbourne and Dave Little adding more guitar along with Peter Linane’s string machine and pump organ ) the album offers several more sumptuous guitar jangled melodies throughout. Rain Stars opens with a Big Star like guitar flourish and a propulsive drum beat before an acoustic guitar starts to bristle beneath the electric strum. String machine and harmony vocals add a slight portentous air to the middle eight, appropriate perhaps as Bruntnell describes this song as “an unlucky man feels picked-on by the universe, toyed with by mad gods like a character from some Greek myth.” The song dips and soars wonderfully, the guitars bright and transcendent. Fishing The Flood Plain is another melodious spangled song which culminates in a tremendous chime of guitars while Plain Peak Operational Condition pumps into action like a new wave killer, all Lowe and Costello, bristling with angst and impatience. Towards the end of the album there’s another fine wallow in jangled guitars on the sublime Long Way Down From A Cloud.
It’s not all sunshine however. Dance Of The Dead opens with a plaintive Bruntnell singing over a slight guitar backing before a delicate piano led melody arises that eventually blooms into a funereal waltz macabre. Where The Snakes Hang Out is a dead eyed observation of shadowy goings on, the guitars much grimmer here. And speaking of guitars there’s the magnum opus of the album, the eight plus minutes of Yuri Gargarin, a song that imagines the mind of a child wishing to emulate the first man in space. Here Bruntnell’s voice is subservient to the liquid guitar meanderings, the band ponderous, an insistent slow beat initially until halfway through the guitar becomes more urgent, flailing around over electric keyboard. It’s a song bound to excite comparisons with Neil Young and Crazy Horse which is, of course, no bad thing.
The album’s rounded out with some winsome, delicate songs. End Of The World is a tip toed acoustic guitar braced exploration of solipsism and is graced by some fine slide guitar towards the end. Caroline, which closes the album, is tender in the extreme as Bruntnell inhales and exhales the essence of English love songs. Like Paul Weller’s English Rose it encapsulates love, longing and regret in a simple although beautiful melody.