Stu Larsen – Resolute
Nettwerk – Out Now
They say a rolling stone gathers no moss but Stu Larsen, a veritable nomad, has in his travels gathered an impressive amount of love and affection for his easy on the ear singing and song writing. With record sales eclipsed these days by streaming statistics his make for some startling reading for a relative unknown – his song, Thirteen Sad Farewells (from his debut album, Vagabond), generating eleven and a half million streams. Vagabond was released in 2014 and undoubtedly benefitted from being produced by Mike Rosenberg of Passenger who had befriended Larsen when the latter was his road manager for an Australian tour. Soon enough Larsen was not only the roadie but also the support act with exposure to sold out amphitheatre shows following. From there he went on the road for his own version of Dylan’s never-ending tour crisscrossing the world and documenting his travels on his website and Instagram page.
Vagabond was as much a travelogue as it was an album, visits to locations from San Francisco to Dublin all catalogued in song and Larsen continues in this vein on Resolute. The songs were initially snippets of thoughts and words recorded on his phone as he globe-trotted around before retreating into various locales in Scotland, Spain and his native Australia to hammer these memos into shape. Hermit-like he hunkered down and went off grid, at one point staying in an old army bunker, wrestling the songs out before recording some demos at Passenger’s Brighton studios with Luke Thomson, a long time friend and record producer. The plan was then to record the songs in Australia but again his wanderlust was itching and prior to this he set off to Indonesia only to experience a ruptured appendix which almost nixed the planned recording dates. Happily, he recovered in time to rejoin Thomson who, in Larsen’s absence had started to lay down backing tracks. Aside then from the appendix incident, the pathway to the eventual album was not so much tortured as torturous but, to his credit, Larsen has woven his disparate threads into a fine tapestry. The ten songs here float finely from the speakers, his voice an intimate postcard from abroad while the arrangements are nimble and sure footed, an attractive blend of confessional singer/songwriter and pop balladeer.
The album opens with Aeroplanes, a song that just about defines Larsen as he relates a tale of two lovers separated geographically, yearning to be together but never connected. Over a melancholic country shuffle from the band he name-checks several cities, places they have been and places they could be, but there’s a sense that they’ll never connect again as he sings repeatedly, “so far away from me.” There’s foreign romance again on the autobiographical I Will be Happy And I Hope You Will Be Too but here it’s more upbeat as Larsen plans a Caribbean holiday for his Spanish girlfriend, the optimistic and sunny rhythm delivered on acoustic guitar. Here his only regret is that he can’t speak Spanish to her but for all that she’d be a harsh mistress not to be moved by his earnest yacht rock like lovability particularly with the sly Happy Birthday reference at the end. Another love affair features on the infectiously rhythmic Chicago Song with Larsen in thrall to a guitar (a 1973 Martin D-35 if you must know) which he bought in Chicago. The song details the places they played at as he tries to decide on a name for his new axe and its delivered with a decided skip in its step and a melody that’s somewhat reminiscent of Paul Simon’s effervescent Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard before bowing out with a positively Dylan-like harmonica solo, a nice touch.
The remainder of the album is a return to the pensive sensitivity of the opening song. What’s A Boy To Do aches with a sense of loss, the singer at a loss as his girl has gone and wondering where he went wrong with the refrain, “With all of these rhymes I’ve learned, still couldn’t find the right words until you were gone” sung by Larsen with regret. The arrangement and production here deserve mention, the percussion like a heartbeat while piano and organ gently pulse throughout. Meanwhile the yearning and somewhat stark ballad What If finds Larsen accompanied only by keyboards on what is a showcase for his voice which becomes more acrobatic as the song progresses approaching the drama of someone like Rufus Wainwright. The softly strummed guitar intro into the ethereal By The River bodes well for a song that echoes long lost Laurel Canyon days although here Larsen is singing about a river he visited in New Zealand. The ghostly vocal accompaniment, the tribal percussion and the slivers of fuzzy electric guitar that surface midway add an air of mystery to this surrealistic hymn to Mother Nature. He might be a nomad but like a prodigal son Larsen looks to home in Going back To Bowenville. A recapitulation of his formative years in this small Australian town he recalls being a shy kid who couldn’t answer the phone before getting a job in his teens and then leaving aged 26. It’s another dreamlike evocation given lift by the arrangement and the playing with acoustic guitar picking to the fore amidst nicely understated percussion and glissando guitars.
With Resolute, Larsen is perfectly placed to repeat the success of his friend Passenger. And while the closing song here, Till The Sun Comes Back, has a chorus tailor made for arms aloft stadium audiences along with a strident march beat that might stir them up it palls in regard to its predecessors. He’s at his best when he’s picking up the traditions and nuances of those who have gone before him and transforming them into his own attractive roadmaps and as such there’s more meat here than one might expect from a singer who is generally lumped in with the likes of Sheeran. In the meantime, Larsen forges on with tour dates encompassing the globe for the foreseeable future.
Resolute is out now – CD | Vinyl | Stream | Download
Stu Larsen is on an extensive tour including UK (November) & European dates from September. Visit here for more details and ticket links: http://www.stularsen.com/tour
Photo Credit: Stu Larsen