Having played together in informal settings since they were thirteen, at the start of this year, Birmingham trio Millbrook – Eddie Barber (guitar/vocals), Rohan Simmons (bass/backing vocals) and Tom Naqvi (drums) decided to go for it on a professional basis, settled on a band name and, with Rob Peters behind the desk, went into the highly reputed Highbury Studios and emerged with one of the finest debut albums it’s been my privilege to hear in a long time, up there with the year’s very best of the genre. Self-released, its retro country-blues Americana and Barber’s keening, sepia-stained vocals are likely to evoke various thoughts of Neil Young, Skynryd, REM and Buffalo Springfield.
The set kicks off in uptempo, rocky form with the chords-descending Wandering, an almost 70s punkish parping sax embellishing the circling guitars, then it’s on to the softly brushed five and a half minute beauty of a harmony-soaked We Are Bold as Barber sings “The road is worn, tired, torn, and bleeding” over the gently tumbling melody, guitars taking off into a Byrdsian reverie around the two minute mark.
He turns on the fuzz pedal for the intro to Where The Rhythm Winds, a tempo and texture shifting number that flows between choppy, electric 70s psych country and softer passages that evoke the early days of Matthews Southern Comfort in Eddie’s voice. Then there’s the reverb taking you through the wide open vistas of The Sweet Divine, its choppy guitar Southern rock riff summoning Skynryd as well as Neil Young before the mood’s taken down a notch on the plaintive, folk-rock infused mid-tempo Nothing To Sing, lonesome harmonica making an entrance as the track reaches its close. It’s there again too, blowing across the jangly ‘from my room’ bruised ache of Eastbound, which, in parts, blissfully suggests a countrified version of Love. Another cascading chord melody with a driving drum beat, the uptempo Real Time is the closest call to REM (the line “have you seen the mailman? ‘Cause he ain’t been round for days” sounds like pure Stipe to me), though you can also hear hints of McGuinn.
By way of contrast, the underpinning funky guitar riff of Something Strange has definite shades of The Doobie Brothers, building towards a psychedelic soul guitar storm before a soft dying fade, while the penultimate ballad, When The Sun Hangs Around, features just vocals and acoustic fret-fingered guitar (I’d lay odds there’s an influence from the folk side of Simon Fowler in there too) before the album ends with the lengthy quiet-loud reverb and euphoric feedback drenched slow-waltzing yearning of Voyager, Barber singing “the ship will go down without a sound and you’re dreaming” before it builds to a squalling guitar climax. In terms of musical proficiency and songwriting abilities, it’s a hugely accomplished debut and suggests they are going to be a very significant name on the Americana scene in the years to come.
Review by: Mike Davies
Due for physical release on 8th October 2015