LOUIS DE BERNIÈRES – Delicate Lies (Khaki Angel Records – KARCD03)

Delicate LiesLouis de Bernières is clearly a man of many talents. Although best known as a multi-award winning novelist, his musical reputation has also grown in recent years. Delicate Lies – his beguilingly poetic second solo album – provides ample evidence (if it’s needed) that his music is not a mere side project of a famous author but deserves to be taken seriously on its own merit.

Louis’ musical journey has had an appropriately novelistic quality to it. Since starting with a banjo uke as an eight-year-old, he’s become a very accomplished multi-instrumentalist. On this album I counted him playing an impressive nineteen different instruments. Along the way he’s overcome focal dystonia in his right hand, been in a couple of bands – including the splendidly named Irreparable Brain Damage – and played the folk clubs. A key moment was his discovery by The Bookshop Band, who gave him the confidence to get on stage and perform his own material. Beth Porter guests on this album.

In describing Louis’ music, I’ll start by saying that many who know him as a novelist will recognise him in his music. The poetic lyrics are beautifully written. Their main subject matter is romantic love, tender but never quite fulfilled and often with a sense of melancholy longing. The compositions reflect the cosmopolitan influences of Louis’ novels. Unsurprisingly, the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin and three novels set in South America, draws particular inspiration from Greece and Latin America. Along with Louis’ talents, the album benefits from three guest artists. As well as Beth Porter on cello, he is joined by singer-songwriter and fellow Suffolk resident Selina Hawker on violin and vocals, while the album’s producer, David Booth, also provides drums, percussion, and vocals.

Delicate Lies opens with ‘Snow’, a melancholy but beautiful song of lost love; “Last year’s tears are frozen on the pillow, The captains of the heart have gone below”. Beth’s cello sets a Gypsy, Balkan feel, which continues as Louis’ flamenco guitar and Selina’s violin join in. Selina and David provide backing vocals.

In contrast, ‘Mancunian Rain’ is much more upbeat in both melody and lyrics. There’s a real flamenco feel to the opening guitar sequence and, as well as acoustic guitar, Louis plays a very Latin instrument called a tiple, a 12-string chordophone of the guitar family. The richly evocative lyrics tell of the protagonist’s dreams of far flung, exotic places.

Sometimes I can see your dark-eyed woman.
Hummingbirds and condors in Sierras
Inca men with muskets grinding coca.
In their land of stolen gold and broken bone.

When he wakes up though, and feels his love beside him, he’s happy with the ’Mancunian Rain’. A rare glimpse of contentment on this album! The vibrant Latin tune includes some nice violin passages and ends with guitar accompanied by hand clapping. A very strong track.

A gentle song of passionate, but ultimately unfulfilling love follows. On ‘There Must be More Than This’, Louis’ guitar and mandolin playing, combines well with the violin and cello. The harmonica is also added to Louis’ list of instruments.

The harmonica has a more prominent role on ‘Hoping For America (Song for Alison)’ on which a 12-string electric guitar makes its first appearance.  The lyrics are interesting. At first, I thought they refer to people’s hopes of America, including those who undertake hazardous journeys to get there – with references borders and fences. But America here might be a woman as well as a country; “And lady let me make you my America, With this kiss I’ve come to wake you, my America”. You’ll just have to listen and work it out for yourselves – if you can!

An intricate guitar and violin sequence opens the mysterious ‘Basket Of Skulls’. The sinister title refers to a mysterious, feminine figure who carries a basket containing the skulls of her of her lovers who never recovered. The discordant elements to the tune and the echo effect of duetting voices produce a suitably mysterious and unsettling atmosphere. This track features Louis playing a viola da gamba – an ancient instrument similar to a cello. There are some more discordant touches in ‘Let’s Be The Perfect Couple’, which also includes a saxophone solo from Louis. Predictably, the relationship described in this song is not perfect.

‘Mind How You Go’ Is a lively track, with an infectious Latin rhythm. Acoustic and electric guitars are use on this track, as are a bouzouki and a cuatro – another Latin American instrument, this time similar to a mandolin.

In ‘Mind How You Go’, the narrator is insecure in a relationship and struggling to work out where he fit in. The narrator of ‘Your Turn Now’ knows where he stands, in a story of wistful longing for a lost love, told with powerfully allegorical lyrics.

The ancient spirit burned me to the bones.
The ships were riding in the docks.
The ravens flew above the rocks.
The darkness came and filled my heart with stones.

The tune reminded me of the opening track, ‘The Snow’, with its deep melancholy. Another rarely heard instrument is involved, a hammered dulcimer of Mesopotamian origin called a Santur.

‘Look Down on Me with Mercy’ has a lively Rockabilly feel and a prominent role for the electric guitar. The lyrics tell of yearning for an unobtainable love, and again are richly poetic; “The ragged bird will shake his wings and rise up free, The ragged bird who sings for you most tenderly”. It struck me that I’ve never heard such poetry accompanied by a Rockabilly tune! It works well though.

The upbeat, Americana feel continues on ‘It Feels Like Dawn’. It’s another story of frustrated love, told with rich allegory and Biblical references. Electric guitar and cuato feature, and there are some good violin sequences from Selina.

Delicate Lies ends with another lively track, with an Americana feel. ‘You Never Believed’ has a truly infectious tune, that stays in the mind and is a strong final track. I should also add that Louis plays two more instruments to go on the impressive list, glockenspiel, and melodica.

This is an impressive album. The musicianship is great throughout, and Lous has a very listenable voice, with good backing vocals from David and particularly Selina. The thoughtful and beautifully constructed lyrics reward repeated listening. Defining Louis de Bernières’ music isn’t easy, but eclectic is a good word to start with. The influences are many and roots music from across the Globe provides the main inspiration. Delicate Lies is an album to cherish.

Graham Brown

Artist website: https://www.louisdebernieresofficial.com/

Louis de Bernières doesn’t perform his music very often and is rarely filmed doing so. If you can find a video of any song on Delicate Lies please drop us a line.