Review: Lifejacket

BBC Website

Kathryn Shackleton, 21st April 2008

"Lifejacket" is singer Ian Shaw's first collection of self-penned songs. Its streaked with nostalgia and dreams of youth that give way to the disappointing reality of adulthood. There are old cameras, seedy bars, dealers and girls with knives and silver heels here - not to mention plenty of references to Shaw's native Wales.

Pamela is like looking through a scrapbook you made when you were ten, and makes poetry of friends with unpoetic names, while the catchy A Good And Simple Man is full of reminiscence, and is dedicated to Ian's Dad.

Ian's trumpet-playing cohort, Guy Barker, pops up on various tracks. On Letter From A Soldier there's a poignant Last Post feel to his interludes; and the jaunty Richard Rodney Bennett-like I Want to Live in Paris features Guy in a pure-toned, swinging solo.

David Preston, co-writer of many of the tracks on "Lifejacket" also features on guitar. His eerily simple backing on Glue works beautifully against Julian Siegel's ominous-sounding bass clarinet. On She's Loaded, David's guitar is light and funky and Ian's quicksilver vocals chatter like gossip, while Love At First Tequila mixes sinewy soprano sax with rapid and precise percussion. Hiraeth ('homesick' in Welsh) sounds like vocalese, and Ian's prog-folk-rock vocals meet exciting instrumental jazz on Northop Road.

One of the most poignant tracks on the album is Forty-Two, an anthemic country waltz, reminiscent of a Tom Waits song. It's a duet between Ian''s soulfulness and the enormous warm voice of Liane Carroll.

Rozz Williams' gorgeous death-song Flowers is the only cover here, and it creeps in as the full stop at the end of the collection. Ian wrings the passion out of Williams' stark lyrics, backed simply by cello and piano.

Ian Shaw's last album was a tribute to Joni Mitchell's songwriting, but with "Lifejacket" he's moved from Canada to Camden and he's laying his own life bare.