It’s funny how the music world turns. The creative process is of course a mysterious thing and can at times be fraught. There are so many variables that have to work together for something to succeed and in rarer cases excel. Here’s a case in point, with a strong sense of everything falling into place for the new album, Reclaimed, which most appropriately saw Adrian Roye and his band The Exiles uprooted from their home and recording in America. Despite the upheaval and logistical difficulty of organising the sessions, the fates have bestowed their blessings to deliver one of the classic albums of the year. Reclaimed is a mellow soulful delight of a record that should be the sound of this heat-wave summer like a sun cream balm, or a cooling breeze or the smell of a summer shower that soothes the scorched earth.
As tempting as it is to think that “cosmic” wheels are in motion, things are a little more prosaic in reality. For Adrian Roye what started out as imitation, making up his own words to songs that he heard on the radio has developed, through friendship, into something quite special. For one thing he has now mastered the art of creating his own tunes and simultaneously a guitar technique that is the foundation of The Exiles sound. But then that’s where the magic really starts to take shape and happenstance takes control.
Adrian explains the origins of his band the Exiles to me, “We were two sets of school friends (Beth and I, Simon and Dan). I’d been playing with Beth for many years at the time as a duo, performing each of our compositions as Beth is an incredible singer-songwriter in her own right. Then I met Dan while we were both temping and found we had common musical interests. Both Dan and Beth played on my first record Welcome To One Man Town”
With new material being written Adrian was keen to expand the sound and he continues, “Dan introduced me to Simon as I was keen to have a cellist on my next recording. The intention was to work with them on a session basis, however, the chemistry we had resulted in us taking it further.”
It’s then however that things do take a genuinely “cosmic” turn to use one of Michael Chorney’s chosen expressions. Beth had turned Adrian on to the music of Anais Mitchell and as Adrian explains, “I was so blown away by the production and recording of her record Hymns For The Exiled that I contact her producer Michael on Myspace (remember when folks used to use that?) and told him what I thought and how one day I’d love to record with him.” That statement probably dates the story and nothing much happened for some time. Adrian and The Exiles did however become friendly with Anais.
On one of her UK visits, Michael came over too in his capacity as a solo artist in his own right. Sensing an opportunity Simon arranged for Adrian Roye And The Exiles to support him for a solo show he was doing at London’s 12 Bar. They got about half way through their set, when clearly impressed, Michael invited them over to Vermont to record with him. It took some organising, but to everyone’s credit the sessions went ahead and Reclaimed is the sublime result.
The production is credited to Michael and the band with the American bringing his multi instrumental skills to the party adding guitar, lap steel, percussion and even baritone sax. Adrian is the lead voice and plays his acoustic guitar throughout, with Beth mostly on bass duties but also adding guitar and mandolin, Simon is on cello and Dan on drums. All three of the Exiles sing and their harmonies and layered voices are just one of the pleasures to bask in here.
Just the title of the first song, Plastic Bag Goldfish, is enough to set off a frisson of somewhat melancholic nostalgia, which finds its match in a slowly circling tune. The image that the title conjures is a powerful one and allows Adrian to explore a sense of dislocation, simultaneously defying constraint as he sings, “A plastic bag goldfish I am in the ocean you swim.” Through the intro, the melody is picked out by the mandolin and the merits of using a cello are immediately obvious as it brings serious weight to the song. The point where The Exiles join the wordless refrain sends a shiver of emotion through the body.
There is something in the phrasing or melody of Warning Shot that brings Joan Armatrading to mind. It’s hard to put a finger on exactly what, but it’s another song that sticks to the synapses. Adrian’s voice is strong, yet has an edge of vulnerability about it, a slight tremor and a soulful hook that commands attention, but you also start to notice the little details like Dan’s subtle and superb drumming, shaping and pulling at the rhythms. The bass lines too, without being showy create a surprisingly funky groove as they lock in with the shuffles, rim-shots and cymbal splashes, especially on The Calling, which has a churning jazzzyness, over which the cello just floats.
The bass and cello come to fore in the Middle of Cold War creating a steady pulse around which the drums patter and splash and the voices rise. It creates a tension that spills over into Fear Of Phantoms that sets off with a reggae beat and an almost high-life style guitar lick from Simon. It’s sort of sounds like The Police, but in a really good way, angsty and full of energy with a nifty tune, but also far more complexity than immediately appears. Adrian’s words are almost fervid, a cascade of images that like the phantoms of the title are apparitions that melt back into the melody.
The combination of jazz and reggae feel is retained in the drumming of Same Each Time, it’s all rim-shots and off-beats. Again it adds a taut feeling as Adrian seems to be struggling with someone as he sings, “Everything I proclaim is like air to the dead.” Although things are no more going his way in Pebbles & Stones, the song is more expansive and reflective, although it’s also paradoxically and cleverly stripped back to just Adrian’s voice and guitar with Simon’s plucked cello.
Seven Hours makes a case to being the standout track of the album, combining all of the elements described above into something truly dramatic. Punctuated with hand claps the song spirals and almost threatens to boil over. It makes a real contrast with Where Are The Roses, which although no less dramatic, is bold and sweeping, expansive on the verge of rapture, yet still veiled and uncertain. It’s that feeling that lingers through I Claim You, the concluding track of the album, but with the ensemble singing and surging melody swelling the emotions almost to bursting point, it’s the fitting finale that the record demands.
This is a brilliant record full of contrasts and a perfect showcase for Adrian’s soulful voice and the simmering wordplay of his songs. The Exiles are a great band as well, there is real skill in their playing and they are much more than just the sum of their parts. You can sense the chemistry that has made the cello the regular fixture that it is. Whatever part fortune has played in hooking them up with Michael Chorney, the magic has happened in Vermont. The arrangements work to bring the songs to life and Reclaimed is a wonderful and richly complex work that is simply and completely captivating. It’s time to welcome these Exiles into the fold of musical greats.
Review by: Simon Holland
Reclaimed is out now available as CD/Digital via Bandcamp: http://adrianroyeandtheexiles.bandcamp.com/