Michael Edgar hails from Hamilton in Lanarkshire, very handy for Glasgow’s thriving live music scene, where Mick Edgar’s Folkin’ Blues Band have built up an enthusiastic following. And Glasgow is where Michael made his first appearance as a solo artist, showcasing the varied paths his song writing takes. Following a successful initial airing of his semi-acoustic/rock/folk at King Tut’s in 2012, he returned to the venue to headline their popular New Years Revolution in January 2013. Since then we’ve had an EP, and his début solo album, Shine, in June last year. At the end of August Michael releases his second solo album, Man Is Made.
Man Is Made carries on in a similar vein to last year’s début. The same combination of well-arranged guitar, percussion and strings that appeals so strongly in Shine is put to good use again. Shine was a very worthy album, but Man Is Made seems to have more of an edge, lyrically; relies less on layered production techniques (while not abandoning the idea altogether, of course) and has more faith in the songs’ own virtues. In short, Man Is Made seems a natural and welcome progression.
The album is, of course, liberally peppered with love songs; such as the opening ode to an ideal, God Made a Girl. This rich, sonorous start very effectively hooks the listener’s interest with its sultry strings, and a tremble to the vocal reminiscent of Daniel Lanois’ Acadie. Heart Of Me takes a different pace. The pulsing bass drum is a lovely touch; no mystery, no subtlety, no clever little lyrical tricks… here’s a heartbeat for you. The sound builds gently, almost imperceptibly throughout. It’s a song that both captures and conveys the contrasting elation and despair of falling utterly and senselessly in love.
Edgar flits around genres like a musical butterfly with an attention deficit; this is a good thing. The strong American influences in his music aren’t allowed to hold sway because the strings (cello, violin) keep it rooted. The strings themselves aren’t allowed to wander off into a quasi-classical wonderland because the mandolin lifts the mood, which, in turn, remains loyal to the overall sound without any unnecessary departures toward full-blooded Bluegrass. It all works very well together, and in a way that isn’t immediately apparent.
If anywhere, though, this appealing equilibrium is epitomised it’s in the title track Man Is Made. The feverish cello is kept light by guitar, violin and mandolin, while it also enjoys a short and thoroughly enjoyable solo outing towards the end of a song that hints at a cathartic declaration of male selfishness. A first rate choice for July’s single release.
The apparent briskness of pace is certainly a major feature in the album. In A Different Drum a gorgeous steel slide guitar underpins a driving fiddle in a fresh perspective on life and a change of musical direction too. An infectious pace from an irresistible toe-tapper. Not that there are any hard and fast rules. Mrs Jane is just as dynamic, but drives in yet another direction with its Hammond organ paving the way for a strong 70’s rock vibe.
With its similarly steady pace and Cello / fiddle duet, She Gets the Best keeps the energy flowing. The rich cello is counter-pointed with a tinkle of mandolin that enjoys free reign before the close. One of the more indefatigable tracks, from a lyrical point of view; but the energy continues to flow through this one and I can imagine it enjoying an even more lively airing in a live setting… and an enthusiastic reception to match. Mama Says is another a clear candidate for a sing-along crowd-pleaser, making excellent use of an infectious snare and a breezy guitar combination.
Runaway takes us from a gentle piano-led wistfulness to the rapid pulse of train-track to freedom. On the surface Runaway is true to its ‘escape’ song heritage. By this stage of the album, however, we’ve learned that things are never quite exactly as they seem with Michael Edgar, and the uplifting flight of fancy is tinged with sadness as the violin quietly soars in the background.
As if to provide evidence of a more obvious soulful side to the music, Lose opens with guitar like ice crystals shattering on a glass floor, until the fiddle lifts the pace. This is where Michael’s lyrics reveal a more theatrical approach. There’s a single deceleration that comes across as an imperative; injecting a slightly sinister note. It’s very effectively supported by a short, strident guitar solo that’s at odds with the airy, acoustic feel; and a cello that exudes a quiet malevolence. It’s contrasts of this kind that give Michael’s songs an edge and evidence the very broad appeal his music could, and should, have for a wide audience.
After Eden closes the album with an unexpected instrumental. A guitar duet that must be hiding a song somewhere, but still stands proudly as an instrumental outing.
Some albums like to challenge the listener – compel them to fathom out lyrics, impress with challenging arrangements, twists and turns. This is not Michael’s style. Michael Edgar likes to take his listeners on a gentle walk. There’s an appealing spring in his step and no shortage of absorbing conversation along the way; there are twists and turns that give the route an intuitive and organic feel.
There’s a hint of Paul Simon in his voice, a smattering of Springsteen in his lyrics. But these are all just indicators of what’s behind the development of Michael’s style – these connections don’t jump out at you; they make themselves known after a few plays. Michael has his own voice, and it’s a very appealing one. He has his own stories to tell; and on Man Is Made, they’re well worth listening to.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Album launch at Stereo, Glasgow on the 29th August