From the pen of our correspondent overseas
Reviewing the recent – and brilliant – Tom Russell record, MV was struck by how exciting his life was compared to our own. The same is true of Bob Bradshaw. An Irishman who moved to America a quarter of a century ago, he was a self-taught player who decided in his late 40s to enrol in the Berklee School of music (from where he graduated with a degree in Professional Music in 2009). These songs amount to his observations on life for the last 25 years.
Like all the great songwriters, Bradshaw can mould these experiences into something illuminating and give them a universal quality. There is something of the dark Tom Waits world about “Exotic Dancers Wanted” which opens this in suitably sparse and laid-back manner. Allied to this, although we might not be in that bar, then there is someone in every bar in the world who is a “sad daddy with a bad case of lonely, checking out the field, maybe find himself a honey.”
An attention to imagery is all important here. The acoustic based “I’ll Be Waiting” shimmers on the back of a catchy hook, but still dots the I’s and crosses the t’s: “meet me at the Staten Island ferry, bring your heavy coat.” Somehow gives this a more personal side than most can manage.
“Call It What You Will” occupies some darker back alley, while “The Assumptions That We Make” is reminiscent of the work of the wonderful Stephen Fearing, but bursts into life with a quite superb – and unexpected – guitar solo.
There is a real skill and flourish in these words. “Workin’ On My Protest Song” is full of Paul Simon-isms and is an erudite critique of those that think a song can change the world these days: “A few more hours and I’ll take my banjo out” offers its hook, “mark my words I’ll show them what its all about – I’ll stop them in their tracks”. It is a fine example of the different angle that Bradshaw finds for his music.
It is striking too, just how many styles Bradshaw finds time for in the 12 songs. “A Bird Never Flew On Just One Wing” is a mighty slab of Americana, with its violin adding a mournful quality. “The Weight Of The World” on the other hand is riotous and full on Southern Rock n Roll, and “Stella” is a stripped down and gorgeous love song.
It is when Bradshaw really lets himself go that “….Echoes” is at its best. “My Double And I” is bluesy jazz with a nod to his fellow Irishman Paul Brady with genuinely funny lyrics, and there is some deep-rooted sadness about “Material For The Blues” which is perfect for those moments when you are scrolling through your phone book looking for anyone who might be awake at 2am.
The guest musicians that Bradshaw is able to use on the album do a fine job too. Andrew Stern’s slide guitar skill elevates “O Brother” to some other plain, and “Old Soldiers” similarly benefits from the wonderfully picked out banjo of Andy Santospago.
It is fitting that an album that begins in a seedy bar ends on the battlefield, because all human life and beyond is here on a diverse and fine record. As much as these are Bradshaw’s own “American Echoes” from his time over the pond, they have resonance for everyone, wherever they may be.