Ian Shaw - Lifejacket - Atlantic Audio Society


Lifejacket, Ian Shaw's first collection of self-penned songs, makes an indelible impression with Shaw's low-keyed, vocal approach to lyrics that are humorous, sad, dreamy, nostalgic, ironic, seldom sentimental, and never over the top. His poems (that's what his lyrics are) are intimate and autobiographical, going back to his restless youth in Wales. His mixture of jazzy falsettos, smooth, soulful delivery and agility in handling the most sophisticated lyrics puts over twelve of his own songs plus Rozz Williams' haunting, death-themed "Flowers," the only cover on the album.

The dreams of youth, captured in "Northrop Road" (Long ago, when the world was made of wishes and our hopeful hearts climbed up to the trop of old Northrop Road we counted stars and put them in a puppet show) collide with the unsatisfactory reality of adult life in "Love at First Tequila" with its visions of cheap bars and cheaper women in stiletto heels with stiletto-like hearts. (Even the name of the bar, the Black Gardenia, has a film-nourish flavor.) Then we have the plain, simple feeling in "A Good and Simple Man," Ian's tribute to his father, and we're on another plane entirely. Life may have its perils and disappointments, but Ian's message is clear: "Don't throw me a lifejacket to keep me down."

"Do you remember the days when summer stretched like canvas, wine poured out like blood? Do you remember the girl in your arms, did you love her like a lover should? If the champagne is poured and the key's in the door. And the towels folded. She's loaded."  Try singing that with the fast, precisely inflected emphasis Ian gives it, and you'll see what I mean about his vocal artistry. He gets great support from his co-workers on this album, especially guitarist Dave Preston who co-wrote ten of the songs and backs Ian simply on the impish "Glue" (Can't you see that I'm stuck to you like glue. I an adhesive and only cohesive will do) and with light-hearted funk on the afore-mentioned "She's Loaded." 

Guy Barker lends his eloquent presence on trumpet to such tracks as the superbly understated "Letter from a Dead Soldier" (to his infant son) which points up the tragedy in a wasted life while soft-pedalling the political message, thus making the poem all the more poignant. Credit also the contributions of fellow vocalist Liane Carroll, saxophonist and bass clarinetist Julian Siegel and cellist Gabriella Swallow, with Mark Fletcher on drums, Thebe Lipere, percussion, and Thad Kelly filling in the harmonies on guitar.

Atlantic Audio Society
26 May 2008