Nigel Stonier – Love and Work
Shameless – 28 April 2017
Although best known as a producer, Cheshire-born Nigel Stonier also has a career as a reedy-voiced solo artist in his own right, Love and Work being his sixth studio album and finding him working with guitarists Robbie McIntosh and Chris Hillman (the English one) and featuring wife Thea Gilmore on backing vocals. As characterised by the pizzicato strings and McGuinn jangling folk rock of on your marks opener Ready To Begin, it’s a largely upbeat musical affair, even if the songs themselves can be of a social comment persuasion.
Case in point is the slow swaying, circling electric guitar and Hammond accompanied Turnaround Town, a track he describes as being about sceptical acquiescence and taking on the persona of someone you’re not with its lines about ‘entitlement dancing with low self-esteem’, ‘ironic detachment’ and ‘acceptable traffic on your Twitter feed.’ It’s probably also the first song to namecheck Lana Del Ray.
By way of contradiction, after having sung ‘love is not all you need’, the very next number is titled You Need Love, James Hallawell on soulful Hammond and Stonier providing harmonica for a steady building slow march Lennonesque hymn to what gets us through.
With some George Harrison slide guitar touches kicking it off (with Strawberry Fields mellotron compounding the reference), the same sentiments could be said to apply to You Breathe New Life Into Me with its cascading title line chorus.
Stonier gliding across the piano keys on the intro, Work In Progress is a sort of Canvey Island boogie, the title referring to the fact he woke up after an ill-advised mix of painkillers and alcohol to find two verses he couldn’t recall writing.
A second image pairing comes with the strings-backed Frost Flowers, the musical mood capturing the freezing dawn walk through the park, if not the accompanying hangover, while, built on nylon string guitar and cello, other than being set at winter Obsidian Snowflake has actually no thematic link whatsoever. Rather it’s a waltz rhythm semi-spoken tale about a brief romantic encounter between “a bookish late teen” and “an older itinerant musician’ that actually put me in mind of early Al Stewart.
Drawing on an old Bobby Charles number, Drink This In is a slow bluesy reminder to appreciate everything around you, leading on to the lolloping good-time Making Moments, another song about appreciating those little things that make up a lifetime.
Its title an admission that it was written to make up the numbers, closing track The Extra Song with its march beat handclap rhythm is sort of his Plastic Ono Band moment. With, the lyrics a stream of consciousness jumble taking in a friend’s death, memories of his father, William Blake, Noel Coward, and the week’s global politics, it builds to a toast to the future and keeping the faith (“it takes more than two hands to push that wheel along”) in a family affair that features Thea on whistle and their two sons, aged 10 and 5, on fiddle and drums, respectively.
The album title is a quote from the Victorian textile designer, poet, novelist and socialist activist, William Morris who declared “give me love and work.” Listening to this, that seems prescient sage advice.