That Luke Saxton’s debut album contains a song dedicated to Harry Nilsson should come as no little surprise. Sat as he is on the front cover of Sunny Sadness in some English country garden, the fresh-faced, sandy haired nineteen year old singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist from York could very easily be mistaken for that late, great nearly-man of pop from New York in his younger days. From a very early age both men were prodigious of talent and prolific in their output (whilst this is Luke Saxton’s first official album release, since he first started writing material some twelve years ago he is reputed to have recorded approximately four hundred songs and more than twenty albums in the confines of his bedroom). And Saxton and Nilsson also share an unerring ability to write quite the most sumptuous of pop tunes that are shot through with the hurt of desolation and sorrow.
As its title suggests, Sunny Sadness presents as an apparent dichotomy. Saxton uses the emotional fallout from a broken relationship as one of the principal sources of inspiration for this record. Yet in a bold step that takes him beyond the broad thrust of most confessional singer-songwriters, he then houses these lyrical themes in melodies and arrangements that speak of hope and optimism for the future.
Opening song ‘Anything I Can Do’ sets these contrasting wheels in motion. “The clouds are drifting by and so are we” Saxton emotes, his loneliness and anguish lurking just beneath the surface of the breezy sleight of hand effected by the song’s melody. ‘By The Bench’ reminisces about happier times though there is little joy in Saxton’s recollections as he tries to sidestep any emotional connection he may have to them.
‘Song For Harry Nilsson’ is a tune that the man in whose honour it is written would have been extremely proud of. It skips along without missing a beat, the spring in its melodic step deftly concealing the pain that Saxton still clearly feels. ‘My Dear’ – a shining feature of his recent solo live performances – may well mine a similar emotional seam but it is hoisted well above any real sense of sentimentality or self-pity by virtue of some gloriously uplifting electric guitar.
Not only did Luke Saxton write all of Sunny Sadness, he also plays every single instrument on it. His bright simple piano melody lights up ‘Spring Is Here’ and reflects the song’s inherent sense of desire, the impact of which he repeats to mesmerising effect on the album’s majestic title track. Rather than keep it hidden, as he had done earlier on the record, here Saxton allows his narrative voice to be fully integrated into the music. And with this Sunny Sadness is ultimately a triumph of hope over despair, something that even Harry Nilsson was not able to fully achieve in his lifetime.
Sunny Sadness will be released on 24th November 2014 through Bad Paintings and The Inkwell, the York vinyl record and book shop.