First with The Broken Family Band and then Singing Adams, Cambridge songwriter Steven James Adams has been steadily gathering acclaim for well over a decade with his particular brand of Americana infused folk rock. Following on from his 2014 album ‘House Music’, Adams’ second release as a solo artist is a tidy half-hour of endearingly simple song-craft.
Musically the album is minimal; perennial guitar strums accompanied by gentle percussion and resounding piano chords and melodies, creating a fresh yet familiar atmosphere. This stripped back instrumentation gives way, though, to a surprising range and depth within the lyrics. Themes of social anxiety and modern indifference run though the heart of this album. The opener ‘Togetherness’ is a timely critique of paranoiac racism and anti-immigration hypocrisy, while the insistently strummed ‘Sea of Words’ is a bitter critique of modern technology and detachment: “The third world war is raging, you watch it on your telephone.”
Adams is always strongest at his most philosophical. ‘Ideas’ is a desperate open letter begging for intellectual companionship, which also contemplates the transience of thought. “It’s not a thing you take hold of,” Adams sings, likening the most precious of meditations to that which can float off and burst in an instant. The inspired use of snare brushes in this sparse musical songscape creates an incredibly emotive sense of loneliness, making this a definite album highlight.
Of the lighter offerings, the schoolboy nostalgia of ‘Kings of the Back of the Bus’, and the plodding piano melody of ‘An Ending’ are particularly catchy moments. ‘The Golden Bough’, however, is a bouncy detour into mid-sixties style psychedelia which is too generic to be enjoyable. A minimal reprise of ‘Togetherness’, with added echo also does little but hint that the artist may have been slightly short on material.
The album certainly doesn’t attempt to break any musical boundaries, but at their best Adams’ brooding contemplations will offer reassurance to those disillusioned with the artificiality of the modern world and on the search for some old magic.
‘Old Magick’ is out now via Fortuna POP!
This Steven James Adams article was written by Tadgh Shiels, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Natalie Whitehouse.