The Lake Poets is the moniker adopted by Sunderland singer/song writer Martin Longstaff. This eponymously titled début album follows on from a very well received E.P. release, Honest Hearts; a series of live shows in support of Ben Howard, Daughter and Jake Bugg, and appearances at Union Chapel, The Sage Gateshead, Glastonbury and T in the Park. Fellow Sunderland native Dave Stewart (Eurythmics) has taken a keen interest in Martin’s work and over three days at Nashville’s Blackbird Studios produced this début collection of 11 songs.
Martin’s music is based around a delicate finger-style guitar, piano and a distinctive, ethereal vocal. These three elements combine to form a thoroughly engaging acoustic sound that’s quietly bolstered by electric guitar, organ, percussion and a host of the resources at Dave Stewart’s disposal. The softly powerful Black And Blue opens the album with a disquieting look at domestic violence and is typical of a forthright and often bitter lyrical approach. Woven expertly together by Ned Douglas’ samples, Martin’s songs talk to the past; often with deep-seated regret and asperity. Vane Tempest takes some of that acrimony, aims it at the the effect of the miners’ strike on North East families and employs a memorable guitar duet from Dan Dugmore and Tom Bukova. At times though, that retrospective gaze turns towards more positive memories. In Shipyards he calls out, and pays homage to, his grandfather in a beautifully sparse guitar/vocal offering.
On a ship you built, that’s where I see you most
With your smiling eyes
These intimate forays into the past include the nostalgic childhood memories of 1996 where Dave Stewart’s Fripp-like guitar adds a fifth voice to Colorado’s Holbrook sisters’ (SHEL) backing vocals. Or there’s North View; an upbeat folk/country approach and an impressive degree of fiddle versatility from Ann-Marie Culhoon delivers more wistful childhood memories.
You were lost and tired and lonely
When you left us in the spring
I see you in my dreams
And I feel the joy you bring
Martin certainly has his positive side. Your Face provides the album with an excellent single. An uplifting love song with a lighter-than-air approach and a full, rich sound. The violin provides added depth, but it’s still the reigned-back sound that pulls you into the lyrics. In a brief departure from the atmospheric, acoustic approach – See You Tonight is something to give the audience a nudge. More of a full band sound with bass, drums and guitars to the fore. The arrangement succeeds in lifting the pace but it’s as an acoustic act that Martin makes the most of his voice and his lyrical content. The finest example, and stand-out track of the album, being Edinburgh. Vocal, guitar and piano augmented by keyboard atmospheres, makes the best use of those arresting vocals and his impressive ability with a lyrical hook.
First impressions come from Martin’s distinctive voice. It has a pitch and a purity that immediately stands out – it’s a captivating sound. Soon, though, the lyrical content of this début album makes its presence known. Martin seems to bare his soul to give a song worthwhile content, the kind of deeply personal and emotional song-writing that can all too easily take its toll. For Martin, though, this is grist for the mill, his capacity for forging a strong lyric from his own experience shines through. When combined with his distinctive vocal it’s a heady mixture that’s well worth enjoying.
Review by: Neil McFadyen
Edinburgh (feat. Ajimal) for Generator Sessions
Released 25th September on DSE/Membran
Order via Amazon