STARRY SKIES – Small Wonders (Foxstar Records)

Small WondersStarry Skies’ new album, Small Wonders, is a pop-folk (and sometimes) rock record that proves, even after all the years, this band from Glasgow cares about “Terry and Julie” as they “cross over the river.” And yes, there’s still “a heaven” to be “found in a wild flower”. Thank you very much Ray Davies and William Blake.

This is an album stocked with “small wonders” that are magnified with big emotional melodies. And main guy Warren Mclintyre has a songwriting skill and pleasant busker’s voice worthy of an unexpected and extended pause in any day’s drizzle with the certain desire to drop a few coins in his always thankful open guitar case.

My friend, Kilda Defnut, said of the album, “This is all just like a really nice non-denominational agnostic prayer”.

The first song, ‘Smile Through The Dark’, certainly sends its calling card with a lovely vocal/acoustic guitar/piano plea for some sort of salvation in a world of ruptured dreams, thread bare souls, and to quote Burton Cummings (of The Guess Who fame!) “worn-out phrases” that “just keep a- hanging on”.  It’s a votive candle that flickers with a really comforting melody.

But ‘Spitfire Susie’ is a burst of energy (befitting its subject!) that tells the tale of a Susie, who “was called away” during the war and constructed fighter planes; and then after the war, she fulfilled her youthful dream of being a teacher. The triumph of her aged years is celebrated in a melody worthy of Nick Lowe, circa his Jesus Of Cool album. Big compliment, there!

In contrast, the marvelous ‘High Water Eagle’ is atmospheric (with dramatic violin) as it speaks the honest words of the daughter whose father was “of an ancient tribe”.  The eerie chorus pleads to “open up and take a look at the false history book” and “those innocent cowboy angels”. This is tough pop-folk (and sometimes rock) stuff. But it threads a tight social justice needle through “an ocean of fear”. And it works.

The equally sinister ‘Natural Way’ also works, as it pulses with a baleful bass line that slithers through the song that (to quote William Blake again!) exposes “the mind-forg’d manacles” of the ironic sad hypocrisy that desires “to break the butterfly on a wheel”. Again, this tune threads a tiny social needle.

Then, ‘Light Your Soul’ shifts the pulse to unexpected finger snaps and vocals. But the band emerges with solemn organ, nice female backing voices, and more of that busker in the rain really decent singer-song writer stuff worthy of an appreciative coin toss. Yeah, sometimes “a heaven” can still be found “in a wild flower”.

Ditto for ‘Kind Hearted People’, which is a joyous romp with a full band country flavour to burn.

Oh – the quick melodies continue: ‘I Don’t Want To Be That Kind Of Guy’ returns to the soaring guitar power that sings with post-punk abandon. It’s an archaic reference, but the tune echoes the pop folk of The Records, with their breezy song, ‘Girls That Don’t Exist’. And ‘Iris In The Underground’ is a wonderful (almost) baroque folk song with delicious strings, a passionate vocal delivery, and an infectious melody with a really nice human heartbeat.

The final two songs simply stretch the folk horizon. ‘I Was Lost’ is an earnest mandolin driven confessional (with even more strings!) of lost love that waves an epic folk ensign.  And then, ‘On The Beach’ is piano-touched with a emotive vocal and strings graced solemn reverie that melodically confronts the uncertainties of life, yet resolves the unending question with warm words, “Don’t let it bring you down”. Nice. So, indeed, please toss yet another coin in thanks for such rainy-day wisdom.

Small Wonders spins with the eternal mantra: “Smile through the dark”. It’s a reminder that there are “heavens” to be “found in a wild flower”; and even though that “Dirty old river must keep rolling”, there are still countless folks like Terry and Julie who still, somehow, manage to “cross over that river”.

Bill Golembeski

Artists’ website: https://www.facebook.com/theStarrySkies

‘Spitfire Susie’:


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