‘Amazing Grace’ is the first album from singer-songwriter Sam Duckworth since killing off indie groovers Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly. and having almost been killed off himself by a parasitic stomach bug. Although it’s somewhere out there on the perimeter of what you might describe as alternative rock, it is a beautifully crafted collection of songs from a wonderfully unpretentious musician that greets you like a warm hug from an old friend. There is a back story of loss and friendship underpinning this delightfully reflective work that reveals more with every listen.
Sam’s credentials are well known, having once been nominated for an NME Award for best solo artist and achieving good recognition for his work in the GCWCF project. He is also a bit of a political campaigner, supporting Love Music Hate Racism and Fairtrade as well as participating in Oxfam’s Blue campaign. Collaborations have featured heavily in his earlier work and this album is no different in that respect, featuring around 40 other contributors; Kate Nash and Gomez are among the most notable. Nevertheless, it’s Sam’s vocals and guitar playing that dominate proceedings with the majority of tracks also featuring long-time collaborator, multi-instrumentalist, singer and producer Jay Malhotra, who takes credit for most of the atmospherics that make this such an intriguing listen.
Album opener ‘El Loco’ features guest vocals from folk singer Grace Petrie, as well as Jamie Jazz and Paul Mullen, and skips along in an upbeat catchy fashion, with folky acoustic guitar strains and a reading from Kate Nash that brings it to an atmospheric close, setting out the stall for the rest of the record. A couple of the Gomez boys contribute backing vocals to the Billy Braggish ‘Hiding Place’, with its familiar guitar sound and sing-along chorus, while ‘Only a Fool’ has a strong tropicalia influence, which makes it pure sunset music with jazzy overtones and laid back saxophone from Pete Fraser. It’s not all sweet tunes and sunshine though, as a more introspective melancholic sound can be heard on ‘As it Is’ with its hushed vocal and hypnotic picking that offers a hint of things to come.
‘Get By’ exudes a positive chill-out vibe with unhurried vocals and a rich bluesy guitar sound on this collaboration with Tobias Hayes of Shoes and Socks Off fame, and is in stark contrast to ‘Long Division’, which provides more melancholic reminiscing, with delicate touches of piano picking out an easy melody over more folky guitar lines. It is another fine example of the instrumental richness on offer here, while the lyric transmits a deep sense of loss. The second half of the album continues in similar vein with the bleak urban landscape of ‘Cities in the Sky: Defence’, which is punctuated by heavy cello licks from Tristan Back to match the dark lyrical content. We are treated to a more traditional folk sound on the storytelling of ‘Geldermalsen Cargo’ before an intrusive dark piano melody kicks in to accompany a wonderfully unexpected poem from rapper Jehst.
The final three tracks are no less reflective or atmospheric; the beautiful piano melody and poignant violin of ‘Property Pages’ evoke a sense of homesickness while the minor chords of ‘The Way you Said Goodnight’ hint at heartbreak to come. It is quite fitting then that ‘High Achievers’ rounds things off with a sense of optimism; there’s a warm glow to the song with its restrained hustle and jazzy sax licks that leaves you wanting more. In fact, I’ve been playing this constantly since we crossed paths a week ago, and repeated listening has shown an apparently simple record to be full of subtleties and intriguing nuances.
All told, this is a fine work from a singer-songwriter in reflective mood, who has surrounded himself with his friends and produced a delightful record with a maturity that belies his 29 years. It is intriguing, enchanting and thought-provoking in equal measure and is worth getting to know on an intimate basis.
‘Amazing Grace’ by Sam Duckworth is out on now Alcopop! Records.
Words by Edward Layland (@EdwardLayland)