Fate smiles upon Roddy Hart. Notwithstanding his obvious talents a brief look at his career will have many other artists shaking their heads in disbelief. His first album featured a guest appearance from an early fan Kris Kristofferson with Kristofferson championing Hart’s work since then. An invitation from fellow Scot Craig Ferguson to appear on The Late Late Show in the States was so well received that Hart and his band returned for a five night residency on the show which was viewed by 12 million Americans. A chance encounter in a Glasgow studio led to a cameo role in the movie Sunshine On Leith, he was invited to play at the Scottish Parliament’s 10th anniversary and in his role as curator of Celtic Connection’s Roaming Roots Revue he has had the opportunity to collaborate with a veritable who’s who of American and UK roots royalty; his phone book must be well guarded. In addition he hosts one of the better radio shows here in Scotland and just recently has become the MC of Radio Scotland’s Quayside Sessions. One might suggest that he change the name of his band from the Lonesome to the Ubiquitous Fire.
Of course this hasn’t all just tumbled into Hart’s lap. Kristofferson was quick to spot a songwriter with promise telling Hart (who has a law degree),”The world doesn’t need any more lawyers” when Hart was swithering about his future prospects. Aside from his own take on classic Americana song writing gathered from years listening to the likes of Jackson Browne Hart is able to turn his hand to writing new arrangements for songs and poems by Rabbie Burns and he also delivered a very respectable EP of Dylan Covers a few years back. It was however a bit of a surprise when in 2013 he formed The Lonesome Fire and turned in an album that was somewhat anthemic in its ambition with Hart and band allowing the likes of Arcade Fire and The National to erupt from its shiny grooves, the album was nominated for a Scottish Album Of The Year Award.
So, three years on Hart & The Lonesome Fire return to the fray with another album that if anything is more polished and epic in its ambition. Swithering (a Scots word that indicates indecision) is an odd title for an album that sounds so self assured (it shines at times with the arena allure of U2). A close inspection of the lyrics reveals Hart singing on Sliding, “And I don’t really know why I didn’t doubt it, I was sure but now I’m swithering” as the band whirl up a Springsteen like storm, keyboards rippling away over a pummelling rhythm. Hart himself explained in an interview that the album was conceived in a different manner from that which was he used to and that he swithered throughout the process before producer Paul Savage came on board and helmed the project. Whatever, the result is an album that might remind folk of the works of The Blue Nile and Lloyd Cole as it alternates between rain speckled drama and guitar based epics.
Opener Tiny Miracles is a seductive glistening groove while the following Berlin has Hart in his most emotive mode amidst shards of glimmering guitars and an eighties like percussive beat. Low Light descends into a rubbery funk beat that is somewhat beholden to Talking Heads but Hart struts his stuff quite excellently here with a fine sense of paranoia and a brilliant glimpse of his native accent thrown in. The cavernous No Monsters rumbles with an evil menace and there’s a similar sense of dread on the ethereal I Thought I Could Change Your Mind which is like a cross between Nick Cave and The Beatles especially as it approaches its end and a mournful horn section appears from the mists. The closing song We’re The Immortals is in a similar vein as a wheezy organ leads into an arrangement that sounds somewhat like something Brian Wilson would come up with if he was a funeral director.
At times there’s just a wee bit too much bombast, clang and clamour, the songs too in thrall to AOR as on Dreamt You Were Mine and In The Arms Of California but there’s a fine reminder of Hart’s own past on the gentle sway of Violet. It’s a softly strummed love song adorned with sympathetic guitar and keyboards and, despite Hart’s onward progress, the song here that I think best sums up his qualities. Not as iconoclastic as shouting Judas at a Dylan gig but just a personal preference expressed here. However, there’s no doubting that Hart & The Lonesome Fire have the chops to make it big with this album and hopefully the Fates will continue to shine on him.