Alan & the Big Hand – Yellow Car No Return
Lost Wasp Records- 28 July 2017
Alan & the Big Hand are Scottish singer-songwriter Alan McClure and his musical associates Andy Swift on bass, drummer Mark Knight and Dave Gawthorpe providing e-bow and jazz and classical guitars. Citing influences that range from the Incredible String Band to Leonard Cohen and Blur, the oddly titled album Yellow Car Of No Return is a suitably eclectic affair, opening with the sprightly Scottish folksiness of Where We’re Heading featuring Tom Gaynard on low whistle and lines about his “heart is in the highlands.”
The musically atmospheric Invitation shifts the mood to a more jazz inflected shade of folk, the former influence finding even greater expression on the Brubeck/Dankworth-like One Way To Go with Gawthorpe’s jazz guitar and Rob McGrath on alto. Gawthorpe switches to classical (sounding almost like a harpsichord) for Reach the brief vocals not appearing until 90 seconds in, McClure musingly singing in a complementary intimate, breathy style. Apparently a “groove driven meditation on the creative process”, I Sat Beside Myself Today is the most immediate and catchiest track, shaker percussion, hand drums and a driving shuffling rhythm carrying it along in a way that conjures early Al Stewart as it gathers pace and musically heads towards the Mexican border.
The pace drops for the mid-tempo self-blaming failed relationships love song Fault featuring slide and accordion and then makes an abrupt stylistic shift with the drone-backed Barriers, the focus very much on the vocals for a thoughtful song about psychological and physical insularity that manages to conjure both the Incredible String Band and WH Auden.
Symbols sees the return of classical Spanish guitar for a shuffling waltz that nods to those Cohen influences before the album ends with the six minute My Era. The latter features McGrath’s sax, a dreamy wash of a number with the chorus soaring and McClure’s vocals tumbling over themselves on verses about making the best of the time we have and not waiting for moments and “the perfect road” that might never come along. The massed backing vocals carrying it along to its lengthy alto play out.
A diverse listening experience to be sure, and one that requires attention rather than comfortably unfolding around you, settle into the back seat and let him take you for a ride.