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Ashley Reaks - Here's to the Good Life

  by Lisa Torem

published: 29 / 9 / 2010

Ashley Reaks - Here's to the Good Life
Label: Ashley Reaks
Format: CD


Sensational and totally unpredictable and original fourth album from British singer-songwriter Ashley Reaks, who is also a visual artist and stand-up comedian

The miracle of Ashley Reaks is that he hasn’t been snatched up by a major label honcho yet. About one and a half years ago, I reviewed this singer/songwriter’s 2008 CD, 'Melancholia'. It was an amazing collection of ambient sounds, spoken word, grave bass lines, East Indian modes, African percussion and pleasantly shocking lyricism. One selection, ‘She Burns’ was paired with a video done by Norwegian film maker Ulf Kristiansen. But, as clever and visually imaginative as the video was, that song would have been savoured with or without the extra help, because Reak’s original compositions work perfectly well solely under the influence of one’s imagination. Another standout, ‘Sucker for Punishment’ is brooding, experimental and addictive. I gripped it tightly for a week, deathly afraid to lose track of it, and played it again and again with my favourite brand of caffeine. Reaks triples as a visual artist and spoken word/standup comedy performer. His list of inspirations hints at some of his many charms. This Harrogate, North Yorkshire, jack-of-all trades is as turned on by nursery rhymes as he is by William Burroughs and Erik Satie. Furthermore, if Timothy Leary had had access to Reaks’ collection of colourful, psychedelic paintings, he might have been spared his LSD addiction. Reaks began his trajectory fronting the Younger Younger 28s, creating a wonderfully poppy sound. He also produced a series of comedy albums including 2000’s ‘Itchy Circus Odour’ and 2007’s, ‘A Conglomeration of Jockstraps.’ The album cover of ‘Children Rule’ in 2003, displayed adorable toddlers and the enclosed music was reminiscent of the Beatles. ‘Melancholia’ had a stark, black and white cover that suggested the breadth of its contents. The cover of his current album features one of his most delightful paintings, but what was inside? I was curious to hear ‘Here’s To The Good Life’, knowing full well that Reaks is no slave to mainstream, media predictability. In fact, he is as comfortable blurring genres as he is tuning his guitar. The ten tracks do indeed blur genres, so the best way to ingest this collection is to give each track the same degree of respect. ‘Hate Me (And I’ll Hate You) finds Ashley’s voice at its most forceful. There’s some Robyn Hitchcock hovering below the surface, along with swoony backing vocals. This soda fountain of ballsy, brassy instrumental riffs is quenched by biting exposition. “Scratch my back and then break it/No more than I deserve,” sings the self-deprecating wordsmith. ‘Brother Joe’ has a stormy narrative that finds a fragile female “drinking a bottle of antifreeze.” “This fly’s buzzing around the souls of the living in my home town” jump starts ‘Ghost Town in My Heart.’ R & B riffs balance a continual stream of dark imagery woven together with a punch- drunk sax solo. “Life’s a cruise for the chosen few” leads off ‘In the Rubbish Bin,’ a humourous breather. ‘Monster of Suburbia’ explores what Reaks does best. He writes, in a deeply personal way, about characters we might have met. “Scrawled against his couch in his ivory tower” is one line pulled from a treasure trove of brilliant observations. The steamy outro is exemplified by Maria Jardardottir’s distinct flavours. The desperation of ‘Serena’ is brought vividly to life when the line “Somebody wrap their arms around her” is sung. Acoustic strumming and a Bowie-like force blend along sweeping vocal textures. Reaks shows us he is clearly at the forefront of the singer-songwriter genre. ‘Here’s to the Good Life’ channels Chet Atkins mid-stream. It swells with country/pop optimism. “Darling, you were the heroine of all my school boy dreams,” he clamours. ‘She Left Me For Dead’ has the intensity and traditional sensibilities of the Waterboys. There’s some great banjo playing by Frank Mizen. Reaks sings in a more brash, but still moving style here, than in his other songs. It’s a thrilling dirge which merges conventional finger-picking style with another twisted and macabre tale. But, the most elegant and well-crafted composition, in my opinion, is ‘Elizabeth’s Loneliness.’ This jewel is the ‘Eleanor Rigby’ of a new millennium. Strikingly poetic: “Elizabeth’s invisible/She’s an unsolved mystery/A wallflower with a wooden heart/She blends in with the scenery…,” the lyrics recall the timelessness and sheer beauty of songs written by Simon and Garfunkel, Lennon/McCartney and Leonard Cohen. The album ends with a free-falling jamboree, called: ‘Every Day is a New Beginning,’ which makes excellent use of Rob Bentley on harmonica and a host of brass and strings. The ‘Here’s To The Good Life’ album cover is delightful in many ways. In the foreground sits a happy puppy and kitty surrounded by marigolds and tulips. Flying overhead are soaring bluebirds and butterflies. There’s even a smiling sun and a luminous rainbow. But, here’s the paradox. Six gangly, imaginary characters hold up signs which indicate the title. They wear comical, puzzled expressions that belie the fact that they’re on to something sensational. But, the rest of us know the truth.

Track Listing:-
1 Hate Me (And I'll Hate You)
2 Brother Joe
3 Ghost Town in My Heart
4 In the Rubbish Bin
5 Monster of Suburbia
6 Serena
7 Here's to the Good Life
8 Elizabeth's Loneliness
9 She Left Me for Dead

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