STEVE BROCKLEY – Is Not Was (Afterlife Music ALM2370CD)

Is Not WasA Canadian singer-songwriter, based in the mountains of British Columbia, while a multi-instrumentalist his third album finds him going back to where he began and working from behind the drums. Produced by John Raham, whose previous work includes The Be Good Tanyas, Is Not Was trades in a warm smoothie of roots, soul and old school country, opening with the mellow groove of relationship on the cusp title track, Brockley’s voice showing a softy grain sandpapery edge. that put me in mind ‘Slow Dancing’ by The Funky Kings.

An acoustic strum punctuated by harmonica solo, another broken relationship themed number, ‘A Fire, The Cold To Fight’ has an open prairie starry skies feel, the weariness carrying over into the pedal steel stained ‘Thrift Store’, the image of pre-owned treasures of a life serving as a metaphor for second chances and new starts. Things are equally slow-paced but a touch bluesier on the dobro-led, organ-tinged instrumental ‘Take It From A Dying Man’ with its evocation of The Band, the slow waltz ‘Someone To Dance With’ a beaten-down take on ‘Tougher Than The Rest’ that finds a glimmer of hope in a glance from another lonely soul across the barroom (“it’s been a long time since I’ve been looked at that way”) who may be “looking for someone to dance with tonight”, ending on the positive note that “love keeps living whatever life does, waiting and counting on someone like us”.

Taking the tempo up slightly for a circling fingerpicked acoustic blues, inspired by the bibles placed in hotel rooms, ‘Gideons’ maintains the emotional momentum with its acknowledgement that there’s a restlessness that makes people move on (“I’m, no cowboy but I can kick up some dust”) and that sometimes you have to accept what you have and work with it.

This is echoed at the opening of the weeping pedal steel slow sway ‘Nothing On Wheels’ where, exploring another metaphor, he sings about taking his broken truck to the dealership and of been shown around the new models he’ll never be able to buy, although, as he bitterly notes, travelling life’s dark roads “some things aren’t worth the money you pay, some things free just get thrown away”.

It ends with the pairing of the gently jogging, brushed snare strum of ‘Belong’, reminiscent of Townes Van Zandt’s ‘If I Needed You’ with its call to “be warm together” when the odds are cold and waking to “the morning of the rest of our days”, and, finally, on an equally optimistic note, ‘Brunt’, an acoustic spiritual blues about holding on in the face of relationship disappointments because, while it’s been hard to let it shine, “someday someone will get the brunt of my love.” You’d do well to be on the receiving end.

Mike Davies

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