In January 2014, life’s road took an unexpected turn for British singer-songwriter Tom Moriarty, when a major concussion left him out of action for nearly twelve months, halting the momentum he’d built with his first album Fire in the Doll’s House and subsequent EP Snapshots of Reality, both highly lauded for his distinctive voice, and direct, impassioned songwriting. With his second album The Road, the release of which was delayed by almost two years as a result of his injury, he has returned, bringing with him a new collection of songs. Forthright lyrics delivered in the selfsame gruff tone and encased within sympathetic arrangements.
The title track sums up Moriarty as a songwriter well. Part auto-biographical, part observation and part political it seems almost like a statement of intent, the chorus: “I’ll keep on walking, but the road is so long/ I’ll keep on talking ’til the words are all gone/ I’ll keep on marching for what I see wrong”. The resonance of these lyrics is heightened in the knowledge that he is returning from an extended break from music. Indeed, it’s surprising to hear that this song was written and recorded before, not after his accident.
Detectable throughout the album is a strong political streak. A former student of Socioeconomic theory and founding member of the UK Occupy movement, Moriarty takes aim at “bankers and their puppet-politicians” in Wake Me Up, the most up-beat track on the album. His passion comes across in the gravelled raw power of his voice, calling to mind a young Tom Waits. In Me and the Sun, his writing takes a more reflective turn as he idealistically laments the constant presence of violence and anger in the modern world and the seemingly fleeting nature of peace. His belief that justice will prevail in the face of adversity os strongly felt, a feeling that is heightened by the album finale Rise Again. It carries both hope and a promise of triumph over the corrupt bankers and politicians – “If I have to work my fingers to the bone we will rise, rise again”.
Whilst political will is strong there is also a tremendous amount of heart in some of the more more personal songs. In By your Side he writes, in a characteristically frank way of love, loyalty and supporting each other through the rough and smooth: “You and I, we do or die/ together we’ll hold back the tide.. I’ll be by your side”. He writes in similarly open way for a friend going through a tough time on They Sing for You: “The world around you will surround you, holding you up high/ The birds they sing, for a chosen few/ They sing for you”. The arrangements reflect the sentiment of the words opening with a simple acoustic guitar chord sequence, and through clever use of organ, drums and bass, ascends to epic heights before fading out quietly.
If his voice brings to mind a young Tom Waits, the music and production (Tristan Longworth), as already hinted, is more sympathetic. Something which is ably demonstrated again on a finger style guitar solo in the introduction of Wheel of Fortune. This time the weight of the lyrics is increased with an almost blues feel, which carries through on the Rich Milners organ playing, matching the downtrodden perspective of the vocals.
Tom Moriarty’s The Road marks a welcome return of an artist whose characteristic voice and frank, heartfelt songwriting will do more than help recover any of the momentum which he may have lost following his accident. All the comparisons to the likes of Ben Harper, Ray LaMontagne and Van Morrison are more than justified and if there’s any justice, this album will see him picking up plenty of new fans along the way.
Review by: Joseph Peach
By Your Side (Live in Tooting Woods)