Are you one of those people who immediately switches off when you hear the phrase singer-songwriter? This reviewer most certainly is, but there’s always an exception to the rule, and American-born, Worcestershire-based Tyler Massey would seem to be just that.
Because while his is undoubtedly a sound very much built around distinctive, deft guitar playing and campfire vocals, at the same time it defies so many of the stereotypes that render the folk/singer-songwriter genre one to avoid in all but the most unusual circumstances. For a start, the six tracks that make up his first mini-album proper after a handful of EPs, seem to whizz by with a brevity and economy that means they never get close to outstaying their welcome. There are moments of raw, stripped down simplicity, certainly, like the exquisite instrumental ‘Waltz For Lily‘, which sees Tyler finger picking with the dazzling dexterity of Steve Hackett coupled with an instinct for a nifty key change worthy of Johnny Marr. But the rest of the time Massey’s songs are eased along by an ensemble of players who lurk in the sonic background but add just enough subtle flavour to keep each song as fresh as the last. ‘How To Complete An Emergency Stop‘, for instance, is augmented and enhanced by Eric Hej’s ingenious percussion, echoing across the mix with the resonance of rocks being dropped down a deep well.
Tilly Chester’s strings, meanwhile, add an extra dimension to All The Pretty Lights, binding together an almost bluegrass friskiness with a deeper melancholy. Massey’s vocal contribution is equally flexible and varied too. On ‘How To Complete An Emergency Stop‘ he channels both the tone and the protesting fervour of Neil Young, on what proves to be a genuinely stirring, rabble rousing call to metaphorical arms in the face of rising tide of right wing populism on both sides of the Atlantic. But at other times, like the ‘Shoulder To The Wheel‘, he pokes fun at himself and his state of unrequited love, painting a much more self-deprecating and uncertain picture, All The Pretty Lights however, sees him switching gears to a much more sombre timbre clocking somewhere between Leonard Cohen and Nick Cave on the sonorous spectrum.
All in all, it’s a win win situation. Massey’s rich and undoubtedly authentic tones and genuine virtuosity will delight those already deeply invested in the Americana camp. But for those of us who find such a prospect more daunting, there’s plenty to make us change our minds, even of it’s just this once.
All The Pretty Lights’ is released on February 23 on the Garland label.