Just under two years after the release of his Modern Attitudes debut, the adenoidal-voiced Dorset-born, London-based Young Folk Award nominee StevieRay Latham returns with Winter In London. The album, a more expansive follow-up, which was largely written in Italy and France, often moves beyond the former’s low-fi folk aesthetic to embrace a wider – though not necessarily fuller – sound.
Again drawing on a fascination for life in the capital, produced by Peter Bruntnell, it unfolds the story of assorted dodgy characters to a backdrop of London’s backwaters, although, having said that, accompanied by a Billy Bragg-like reverb guitar, sparse album opener Kristina finds him at 6am, broken and reminiscing about the titular character “at the bottom of the garden talking with apple trees” as he remembers “what you faced then, and what you’re facing now.”
One review likened StevieRay Latham, rather fancifully, to Dylan crossed with Cohen, but, if he reminds me of anyone, on the tumbling chords of chugging West Hendon Incident with its “waking dreams of doubt”, it’s Wreckless Eric. A late night bluesy sway enfolds the wistful Never Go Back (“I came here because I believed that the fresh water could, bring us to life”) with its acoustic guitar and woozy keys before things beef up somewhat with the loosely hung garage blues of the dystopian regret and redemption snapshots of Late Night Conversations.
A spare fingerpicked acoustic guitar provides the backbone for the 60s Soho folk-blues (a touch of Roy Harper perhaps) feel of the title track before cello and synth textures arrive midway to build a brooding ambience. The feel and mood flow over into Concubine and, woven with a patchwork of urban details, a vision of London (“baby ragamuffin sweeping up the step of the tattooed magistrates court…she’s taking photographs behind closed doors, of her mother in bare skin, she’s in the basement, in the red-lit shadows”), before, while remaining in the 60s In The Valve (another song concerning doubt) shapeshifts to unfold more of a Spector-pop sound with its echoey drums intro and jangling twangsome guitars.
With a waltzing whirligig intro that features a mandolin, the intimately sung Church Terrace takes on fairground carousel vibe, shading its folk hues with jazzier, slightly baroque tints. Nodding to the early Simon & Garfunkel with its circling acoustic guitar pattern, with an added cello blanket, the album ends on the filigree fingerpicked This Is The Love with its questioning lines “In the rain where I cannot see, she makes the sun shine for me. In the end, should I be upset, or should I start caring yet?”
By slipping out at the end of the year, Winter In London may not get the attention it deserves, but this is well worth seeking out, heralding a further step up the ladder for a highly distinctive talent.
Out Now on At the Helm Records