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Morton Valence – Me & Home James

on June 08, 2011, 7:59am

A considerable slice of my journalistic life is spent singing the praises of relatively unknown artists while bemoaning the plethora of me-too acts bankrolled by increasingly desperate majors. If only some of the former could step into the shoes of the latter, then we could discover what the listening public really, really wants. It might not be the middle-of-the-road, all-things-to-everyone merchants and girls shrink-wrapped in fetish outfits, after all. But let’s cheer up and be glad that there’s a place in this maddeningly commercial world for the likes of Morton Valence.

The independent-spirited London five piece has been around for some time but rose to some critical prominence in the UK and Europe on the back of a sparkling debut in 2009, Bob And Veronica Ride Again. A concept album financed by fans and presented along with an absurdist little book, it almost came with a glove marked ‘follow that.’ Two years on, the band finally has, and it’s called Me & Home James. The name comes from a long-gone London cab company, and the collection of 12 songs reek of urban mythology as it takes you on a journey across town.

The debut album had an unmistakeably English feel to it, while the follow-up mixes Americana with London folk tales in a compelling, sometimes loud, often louche manner. There’s a strong element of country music shot through the record, but it’s not pastiche, more an affectionate take on the genre from the occasional off-key steel guitar to some lovingly whispered vocals. Founding band members Robert Hacker Jessett and Anne Gilpin are very much center stage, delivering tender duets here while spitting out savage observations there. The Anglo-Colombian blend of drummer Daryl Holley and bassist Leo Fernandez adds a dance feel to proceedings, while Fernandez’ compatriot Alejo Pelaez appends subtle electronic brushstrokes to his keyboard work.

Lyrically, Morton Valence is able to combine mundane musings with seemingly incongruous commentaries that make you think as you smile. On the splendidly titled “These Were The Things I Was Thinking Of And Then You Fell Out Of The Sky”, Gilpin mixes dark thoughts among the everyday and the profound: “The old man upstairs is always snoring/I’d quite like to put my fist in his eye/Shall I walk or shall I take the train this morning/And I wonder what’s the meaning of the life”, before being liberated by an unexpected love. The title track is another standout, taking a familiar descending chord sequence and freshening it up with sharp annotations that make you feel you’re in the car alongside the singer.

Fans of the live band will equally be thrilled the find the slow fuse to thrash “Man On The Corner” and the outrageously catchy, electro-driven “Sailors” here. You get a lo-fi boy-girl duet morphing into full-on psychedelia in “If You Are The River”, fond mourning for the passing of the cockney ‘sparrow’ and even a dedication to Captain Beefheart along the way. This is a rich tapestry waiting to be unveiled. Listen and love it.