Brendan Adams’ Buttons confronts the age-old “I pulled into Nazareth” (sort of) sacred confession of The Band’s ‘The Weight’, which Robbie Robertson once said, “Is about the impossibility of sainthood”.
And the question continues. This album may well be a lovely message in a bottle tossed into a careless and unforgiving sea. And, sure, Buttons doesn’t quite match the myth of ‘The Weight’ and its mythical “Nazareth”, but I’ve given blood enough times to know when that needle touches that very same quasi-religious metaphoric vein.
Or, as my friend, Kilda Defnut, often says, “Every beautiful river has to start somewhere, but then it just keeps flowing because that’s what water does”.
Odd: The first tune, ‘It’s Alright’, pulses to a reggae beat—with female backing voices that mirror Bob Marley’s I Threes. It’s all quite secular, although Jesus’ name is mentioned, but the overall theme proclaims (the always necessary to say) “It’s alright to be okay”. There’s a nice positive vibe, but in all fairness, it’s not indicative of the rest of the record.
‘Today Today’ could (almost) be a Paul Simon tune, with its slight world beat, acoustic guitar, catchy chorus, and clever abstract lyric. Ditto for the absolutely beautiful ‘Electricity In My Bones’, which, with its backing vocals, could have been an outtake from Graceland. Brendan Adams is a South African artist, so this tune also murmurs “under African skies”.
And then album hits its folk-singer stride. ‘You Are In My World’ is a gentle ode to love. It warms our covid cold confines. The same is true for ‘Slow Down’– an acoustically driven tune with the voice and passion of a wonderful James Taylor song. This is naked beauty, and it glances (quite successfully) at the grace of all those 70’s singer-songwriters. The title song, ‘Buttons’, is a subdued prayer about “undoing buttons under the stars”, and it’s a nice soundtrack to a shared and quite glorious sunset after an equally nice day. The song conjures that Joni Mitchell idea about “getting back to the garden”. Then, the breezy ‘Good Again’ is sing-a-long fresh and (sort of) touches the joy of The Faces’ (and Ronnie Lane’s solo song) ‘Ohh La La’. And ‘Coffee First’ perks with a free trade complex acoustic guitar figure and a jazzy vocal. ‘Empty Cup’ blends the blues of the cosmic “this spaceship Earth” and “the mailman” who “still brings the bills”. It’s a late-night walk in the dreary rain song that should be sung in a late-night walk in the deary rain, remembered. And the gentle acoustic ‘Empty Places’ dances between all those dark raindrops.
Now, there are twenty songs in all. Some add a bit of salt and pepper. ‘You And Me Against The World’ is a nice air pump that ups the percussion ante and bounces with an electric guitar bite. I suppose Elvis Costello’s early defiant ethos comes to mind—with the anger morphed into a more hopeful tone, and takes, quite literally, EC’s claim that, “I’m not that angry anymore”. Oh my (!) ‘Survive And Survive’ is almost a thankful nod to (the great) Bruce Cockburn. Then, ‘Oh The Rain’ gets a big Boz Scaggs soulful treatment with quiet jazzy horns, organ, and guitar, yet manages to get metaphysically important with the lyric, “We’re only here for a minute”. Pop music should always be a bit profound. There’s a deep dive into funky “burning bush of love” blues with the organ wonderful ‘I Love Breathing What You’re Burning’. The song extends passion. And, to namedrop another reference, ‘We Tend To Expect’ echoes the nice weirdness of (the also very great) baritone voiced Kevin Ayers.
Oh my (again)! ‘Somewhere Else’, finds that very same musical vein that pumps lifeblood into this organ-drenched tune (with pathos to burn!) that takes its good-natured time and rides melodically in “Nazareth”, while still facing that “impossibility of sainthood”, with a voice that pours water from a deep well of wisdom. It’s a magical song.
But then the songs look for a safe landing spot for dangerous times. ‘The Dealer Knows’ is spooky with more dark horns and words spoken in melodic whispers only heard in “skinny nights”. This is a brilliant song that competes with all the work of name-dropped big folk names, and, perhaps, crosses the finish line with its street cred still etched in gospel truth. And that’s a tough thing to do. The simple ‘Call Me If You Need Me’ is dreamy with a universal lover’s plea. The even simpler ‘Less Important Now’ is the ultimate slow danced lovers’ song, and its depth is deep enough to prolong a sad goodnight during “the darkest hour”. And, finally, ‘Two Leaves’ is a song that understands the colours of any sunset. It bleeds the deep and comfortable luxury of any ending day.
Yeah, Buttons gives lyrically rich blood from that quasi-religious metaphoric (and very melodic) vein. But it’s also a modern current that thanks its source, and then, in the words of my friend, Kilda Defnut, “just keeps flowing because that’s what water does”. Indeed, Buttons “just keeps flowing”. And perhaps, in these (to quote Steve Tilson!) “such times”, that’s the best we can hope from a really nice record album.
Artist’s website: https://badams53.com/
‘Two Leaves’ – official video: