Andy Robson, 1st April 2008
Although Shaw emphasises the "folk" influences on his first album of mainly self-written material, panic not, he's not taken to sticking his finger in his ear and wearing clogs. "Lifejacket" is a sophisticated array of songs, mixing lyrics of wit with melodies that match. The emotional palate ranges from the riotous but tear-tinged Forty Two (aided by a heart tugging, bottle lugging performance from Liane Carroll) through to the gently loving elegy to Shaw's father, A Good and Simple Man. Along the way there's scurrilous tales of London life, meditations (but never sentimental ones) on exile from his homeland, and songs of loss, pain and the certain sweet surprise of love. Shaw folds many influences into his broad aesthetic, sucking in Joni, soul, glam, Cole Porter and brass bands. It helps that he has a superb band of old but never complacent acquaintances. Guy Barker shines, militarily precise on A Good and Simple Man or doubling Shaw's boppish lines on She's Loaded. David Preston too, who had the final production say, is a vital voice in the instrumental mix, lithe, funky and with as wide an emotional range as Shaw. Some songs may seem over-knotted melodically, while Shaw himself worried that doing all the harmonies might have over-egged the production pudding. But overall, this is a gem of a recording, and hopefully not a one-off peek at Shaw the singer-songwriter. More, please.