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Ralegh Long - Hoverance

  by Benjamin Howarth

published: 4 / 5 / 2015

Ralegh Long - Hoverance
Label: Gare du Nord Records
Format: CD


Intense debut album from singer-songwriter Ralegh Long, which has been given an otherworldly quality by him moving away from his main instrument of the guitar to the piano to record it

It’s been a long wait for Ralegh Long’s debut album. Since self-releasing two EPs in 2011 and 2012, Long has recorded a handful of tracks for compilations and played a number of gigs while completing work on ‘Hoverance’. My understanding is that the delay is not the product of any laziness, but that Long has been determined to get the album right, endlessly refining, rewriting and honing. The obvious concern at such a long gestation period is that the songs that emerged would be overcooked. But, there are no worries on that score here. Instead, the years of hard work have been spent meticulously creating the impression of minimal effort. Instead of sticking to his main instrument of guitar, Long wrote these songs sat at a piano – very much his second instrument. I recently read Jeff Tweedy say that Wilco didn’t really come together as a band until Jay Bennett (by a distance the band’s most skilled guitarist) started playing piano – his unfamiliarity with the instrument seemed to free them up and focus on how the songs should sound, rather than fitting songs around the arrangements. A similar thing seems to have happened here - with his piano lines straight out of the ‘keyboards for beginners’ book, the focus is on Long’s natural ear for a memorable tune. Lyrically, Long creates an impression of a slight awe mingled with misunderstanding about the natural world. Around this, he is occasionally struck with cutting one liners about romance and loss. At no point does it all get too cosy – ‘The Light of the Sun’ has a simple sugary-pop chorus, but the rest of the lyric focusses on how hard it is to make the best of such occasional moments of bliss. The sun on his back seems to be that much welcome burst on a warm-ish Tuesday afternoon in a suburban park in mid-October, not the Californian sun Dennis Wilson bathed in during breaks from the surf. Coming in at less than half an hour in total, it’s a surprisingly intense listening experience. Perhaps that comes from the slow pace – the album is constantly melodic, but it has no ambitions at making you dance. A varied cast of musicians and arrangers have popped by during the elongated sessions to lend their hands, including psych-rockers TOY’s Tom Dougall, El-records man Louis Philippe and various members of A Little Orchestra. Dougall gets his chance to shine on the instrumental ‘The Lizard’, where guitar temporarily replaces keyboard as the lead instrument. But the defining instrument on almost every track is Jack Hayter’s pedal steel. Hayter – for those of you who don’t already know him – was once in Hefner. Hefner’s singer Darren Hayman once said that he liked playing with Hayter because he gave the impression of playing predominately to the lyrics. That’s certainly what he seems to be doing – his wistful notes ringing out the doubt and uncertainty in the words, and ensuring that these conventionally structured pop songs never sound predictable. These songs, and their arrangements, are stubbornly resistant to being put in a box. The recent vogue for seventies-style singer songwriters has prompted comparisons to John Grant and Father John Misty, but this reviewer can’t hear that at all. Another writer compared Long to “Nilsson, early Todd Rundgren, even Alex Chilton”. You could add plenty more names to those lists – the breezy arrangements echo early Belle & Sebastian; the lush strings hint at Mercury Rev’s ‘Deserter’s Songs’; the vocals have a faint echo of the Charlatan’s Tim Burgess and Ash’s Tim Wheeler. Names too numerous and too varied to give any true indication of what the record sounds like! And, besides, playing “spot the influence” here misses the point, anyway. Instead, what makes this album enjoyable is how it is a self-contained experience – a wistful, lazy, slightly eerie set of wayward ballads, sung by someone who sounds out of step and unsure of the world. Many of these songs would work as stand-alone songs (especially the impossible catchy ‘No Use’, the only song from Long’s earlier EPs to make a reappearance), but they come together on this record to form something more than themselves.

Track Listing:-
1 Gulls Hovering
2 Islands
3 The Light of the Sun
4 Song for Matthew
5 All the Leaves Are Gone
6 No Use
7 The Lizard
8 Love Kills All Fear
9 The Ride
10 Beginning the World

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