Despite Cameron J. Niven being an unfamiliar name to most, he is recognized by those lucky enough to have heard him play as a rare talent. After a couple of years on the London folk scene, including a session for Folk Radio UK in 2012, Niven has teamed up with award winning guitarist Ben Walker (producer / mandolin & slide guitar) to record Tick Tock, his first EP.
Niven’s guitar style is heavily influenced by the folk and blues guitar playing of the likes of Jackson C. Frank, John Martyn, David Graham and M Ward but retains a unique style of its own, perhaps due to the fact that Niven is self-taught. Throughout, the four songs on Tick Tock Niven’s guitar arcs, dips and sways from one side to the other giving the listener a sense of perpetual movement.
Time is the EP’s standout song. Niven sings in a poignant, emotion filled voice about a heartbroken sense of powerlessness. The imagery of being adrift at sea, being pulled one way by the wind and another by the moon combined with a cyclical, looping guitar evokes a sense of turmoil. This is heightened by the shift of mood towards the end of the song, as quiet grief is replaced by anger.
The themes of movement and lack of control return in Fixing to Gamble. That sense of being pulled by forces outside his control is perfectly summed up the lines: “Some are born to roam while others just aimlessly float.” Niven’s gently strummed guitar with the occasional flamenco flourish, accompanies his softly sung song about indecision and uncertainty. Niven sings that “The road forks in two/ And I don’t know which way to choose/ One is old and one is new/ And one leads back to me and you”
Newspaper Blues opens with a dark, brooding guitar line accompanied by a ominous plucked bass. Despite the gentle tone of Niven’s vocals and the poetic lyrics this is a fiercely political song. The following lines seem like a direct attack on the corrupt world of journalism: “Newspaper Blues, Newspaper Blues/ You’re twisting my mind with your trickster’s ruse/Who do you side with who do you choose /when its only jesters that are speaking in truths.” Again the theme of powerlessness is present. While, Time dealt with powerlessness in the face of a broken relationship and Fixing to Gamble with the powerlessness brought about by indecision; Newspaper Blues addresses the powerlessness felt by those who are being lied to by those in a position of power.
Moon, the final song on the EP is a mournful song of aging and loss. It is about coming to the realization that “the winds of change are getting colder now”. The ethereal steel guitar and mournful piano accompany a relentlessly forward moving guitar line giving the sense of the steady march of time. It is a fitting end to an intriguing and accomplished debut from an important talent who deserves a wide audience.
Review by: Alfred Archer
Tick Tock EP is out now available via Amazon
Performing on Tick Tock:
Guitar, vocals – Cameron Niven
Mandolin – Ben Walker
Double Bass – John Parker
Keep up with live gigs and more via: https://www.facebook.com/CJNmusic/
Album artwork by Edward Lloyd