I really liked Paul Cowley’s 2018 album Just What I Know: it showed him to be a very competent singer and guitarist with an unusually authentic feel for country blues, both as an interpreter of songs by classic artists and in terms of extending that gift into his own blues-soaked songs. His latest CD project, Brandéha, while still unmistakeably rooted in the blues, takes him in a slightly different direction, being an all-instrumental soundtrack album.
UK-born Paul has spent the last eight years living in Brittany: his participation in the Brandéha project arises from an invitation from local film maker Teddy S. Lubin to provide background music for a film about the neighbouring bio farm Brandéha, its methods, its philosophy, and its importance to the community. Paul has written all the music here and plays all the instruments here: acoustic guitar, National and Dobro resonator guitars, banjo and cajon.
Here’s the track list.
- ‘The Cross’ is a leisurely, arpeggiated piece in (I suspect) an open D tuning, giving it a classic singer/songwriter feel.
- The pace picks up a little with ‘Mimosa’, an instrumental version of one of Paul’s songs: a straightforward blues theme – somewhat reminiscent of Willie Brown’s ‘Mississippi Blues’ with its boogie-woogie bass– that marries acoustic guitar and slide.
- ‘Nellie May’ was also originally a song from Paul’s 2013 album Close To You. Here it features slide over some tasty ragtime-y picking.
- As you might expect from the title, ‘Brass & Steel’ features some atmospheric resonator work.
- ‘Dropped D in E’ does what it says on the tin: it starts with some modal figures then moves into a more conventional major blues theme, all underpinned by a simple alternating bass.
- ‘Brandéha’ is essentially a simple minor chord sequence.
- ‘Diesel Boogie’ is an interesting mélange of styles and instruments, moving from an eight-bar to a twelve-bar theme dominated by the banjo, but underpinned by acoustic guitar, slide and some kind of diesel engine! Rather fun, and an upbeat ending to the album.
A soundtrack album can present some challenges to the reviewer, especially the reviewer with no access currently to the film for which the music was composed, and the very fact that the music was specifically composed or arranged for the film adds to the challenge, since the music is most successful, cinematically speaking, when it is subservient to the visuals and spoken commentary. Furthermore, there’s probably less room for a display of bravura – which I’m sure Paul could do very well – set against a film whose focus is documentary rather than dramatic. But what is gained from this collection is a spontaneity that’s missing from so many albums, a sense of the artist revelling in the opportunity to explore ideas in a different media context.
Not a disappointment, then, but I look forward to hearing more of Paul’s vocal work on his next album.
Artist’s website: www.paulcowleymusic.com/
Here’s an oldie from Paul – “Don’t Need Too Much’: