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Nic Armstrong - Greatest White Liar

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 11 / 4 / 2004

Nic Armstrong - Greatest White Liar
Label: One Little Indian
Format: CD


Excellent and thoroughly authentic debut album from new talent Nic Armstrong, who puts the majority of other 60's copyists to shame

Now this is more like it. Finally after band after band trying to recreate the music of those heady days of the 60's, and for the most part failing miserably, Nic Armstrong’s debut, 'The Greatest White Liar' has such an authentic 60's sound it’s hard to believe that the Newcastle born multi-instrumentalist is only 24 years old. The main problem with 60's copyists is that they usually have a couple of decent songs which are then rewritten slightly over the course of an album. The fact that they more often than not tap into just a certain couple of years from the 60's for their inspiration doesn’t help. Armstrong is different from the pack for a number of reasons. The production of the 14 songs is a real throwback to the 60's. not surprising given that White Stripes producer Liam Watson twiddled the knobs throughout the album. Armstrong is obviously more influenced by the very early part of the 60's rather than the second half of the decade which most bands plunder for inspiration. It’s refreshing to hear the R’n’ B sounds that most of the ‘beat’ groups were cutting their teeth on before the Beatles exploded into our lives in late ’62 played with such authenticity. Ocean Colour Scene updated this sound successfully a few years back but Armstrong doesn’t dress his R’n’B in contemporary clothes; it wouldn’t raise many eyebrows if we were told that these songs were recently discovered on an old tape lying around in a basement somewhere. Vocally Armstrong has been compared to so many 60's icons it’s embarrassing. The truth is he doesn’t sound like Eric Burdon of the Animals, not by any stretch of the imagination, and the Lennon comparisons are for the most part way off track. In fact it is extremely hard to pin point why Armstrong’s vocals sound so familiar yet so fresh. The music could have graced any early album from the Hollies to Manfred Mann to the Zombies but those vocals are not so easy to place. Lee Mayers ( from the La’s) springs to mind in a few places but there’s a grittiness to Armstrong’s vocals especially on the R’n’B tracks which is all Armstrong’s own. And that’s one of the attractions of this collection; although Armstrong is showing his love of the music from over 40 years ago openly the vocals bring something new to the sound. Armstrong may be recreating the sound of the early 60's but he is certainly no copyist vocally. Apart from the first track, ‘I Can’t Stand It’, and the closing song, ‘Mrs The Moraliser’, which mix Armstrong’s R’n’B leanings with just a touch of mid 60's psychedelia, the album as a whole could be taken as a musical journey through 1960 to 1965. Second song, ‘Broken Mouth Blues’ (which was released as Armstrong’s second single earlier this year) is a fantastic piece of authentic R’n’B with Armstrong playing all the instruments except drums. His harmonica playing on this song is incredible and brings to mind all those bands from the early 60's who were belting out similar music. It’s not all gritty R’n’B though. As early as the third song, ‘In Your Arms On My Mind’, Armstrong shows his talent at writing and singing more tender songs. It’s a shuffling acoustic track which , after the first two songs, highlights a surprisingly gentler side to Armstrong. ‘I’ll Come To You’ is another song where Armstrong leaves his love of R’n’B and slows down the pace for what is arguably the best song on the album. With lyrics dealing with a love which appears to be failing the lead guitar by Miles Watson adds a haunting feel to the song. Without taking away any of the obvious talent Armstrong has in composing R’n’ B flavoured songs these last two mentioned songs show a maturity in his song writing. This takes us back to this ‘musical journey’; if the album had closed with these songs along with ‘Too Long For Her’ which is another tender, melodic love song it would have musically summed up those first five years of the 60's as they happened rather than jumping from ’62 to ’65 and then back again. But this is not a criticism, the album works well the way it is programmed. It just shows that Armstrong has more than one string to his bow and is capable of more than straightforward R’n’B. It will be interesting to see where Armstrong goes next. It would be good if he has at least a couple more albums worth of songs in the same mould as these before he changes style or ‘progresses’ into the late 60's or 70's. It’s all too rare to come across an album like this now which is so timeless. Let’s hope there’s more where this came from.

Track Listing:-
1 I Can't Stand It
2 Broken Mouth Blues
3 In Your Arms On My Mind
4 Down Home Girl
5 On A Promise
6 I'll Come To You
7 Back In That Room
8 Too Long For Her
9 She Changes Like The Weather
10 Natural Flair
11 Scratch The Surface
12 You Made It True
13 The FInishing Touch
14 Mrs. The Moraliser

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