South, West, North, East is a pruned down 10 track collection from Stephen Kellogg‘s four separate EPs released in March, this follows up 2013’s Blunderstone Rookery (FRUK review here) with a collection that balances off dusty ballads with slightly more uptempo numbers that occasionally verge on rootsy rock.
Reflecting his life in recent years, including the break-up of his band, The Sixers, and how life on the road keeps him away from his growing family, it opens with one of the strongest numbers, the breathily confessional Almost Woke You Up, strings enveloping its yearning chorus, before picking up the pace for the rolling train rhythms of the piano and lap steel laced The Wild Heart.
What follows is a more introspective stretch that encompasses the resigned acceptance of the strummed We Say Goodbye, a spare, stripped down Mother and Child with its rumbling drums and moody keyboards and the lovely country-dappled Wallpaper Angel with its uplifting chorus refrain, before High Horse turns up the volume and tempo as the ringing guitars and drums kick in for a barroom alt country chug.
A similar, but slightly bluesier swagger is to be found on the time signature shifting Wolf, but otherwise the remaining numbers play the album out on more soothing notes, a soft tone brushing the tumbling melody of Learn To Live’s choices to be made encouragements, 26 Seconds (of Silence) a piano hymnal that gradually introduces reverential percussion before a dying fall and, Kellog’s voice echoing in the background, the banjo and harmonica and handclaps accompanied, gospel-tinged defiant Last Man Standing.
Overcoming the fear that his best work may have been behind him, the blurb says the album was distilled “to reflect the journey as a creative whole”, but while it works on its own terms, the quality is such that you really would be doing yourself a disservice were you not to seek out the original EPs and the full 20 tracks.
Out Now via Bread & Butter Music