Ian Shaw - Lifejacket - Vortex Website

A lifejacket saves you from drowning, and thus provides a useful defining metaphor for Ian Shaw's first album comprised (almost) solely of self-penned material. Like his great inspiration Joni Mitchell (whose songs Shaw interpreted on his previous Linn album, "Drawn to All Things"), Shaw has a gift for rendering the deeply personal accessible via lyrics that somehow contrive to combine the colloquial with the unassumingly poetic, and on song after song on this compellingly listenable album, he explores the poignancy and emotional nooks and crannies of life. From the sparkily amusing (but with a sting in its tail) opener, Love at First Tequila and the hard-won insights of the title-track, through the appropriately straightforward heartfelt tribute to his late father (A Good and Simple Man), to the Mitchellesque self-examination of Glue ('I love when I'm loved, but I carry the torch for any old dope who loves me more') and Forty-Two ('I've tried to save face, I've settled some scores, I've tried to show grace, I've cried on all fours'), Shaw demonstrates a gift for writing intimate, penetrating songs that, while charting his own progress into maturity, contain sufficient universal applicability to absolve them utterly from the so-called 'confessional' songwriter's besetting sin, self-indulgence. Centred on the close musical rapport Shaw has with co-writer/guitarist David Preston (with whom Vortex regulars will be familiar from the duo's regular appearances at the club), the album's music ranges from outright jazziness (daring intervallic leaps and semi-scatted passages) through lightly funky to classy acoustic-folk-influenced material, and takes in cogent contributions from the likes of Julian Siegel (adventurous tenor, soprano and bass clarinet) and Guy Barker (elegant but sassy trumpet), to mention but two, along the way; all in all, though, the focus is firmly and deservedly on Shaw's considerable gift for lyric writing and his own versatile, unmistakable voice. Strongly recommended.

13 May 2008