Australian singer-songwriter Tom West’s I’m Livin’ is an album of dark sonic colours that hover over very acoustic melodies. These tunes burn from a smokey soul.
Now about that elephant in the room (aka truth or dare)—Tom West’s vocals are a dead-ringer for Jake Bugg. It took my friend, Kilda Defnut, (who loves JB’s first album) about sixteen seconds to raise an eyebrow. But thankfully, I’m Livin’ quickly announces its own wardrobe: This is molten music with drama to spare. The first song, ‘Exile’, explodes with a tough soundscape of keyboards, electric guitar stums, and patterned percussion. Then, Tom’s (somewhat) sinister voice rides an aggressive melodic wave amid an ever-swirling and always descending darkness. It really does set the tone for the album.
Then, ‘Got It Cheap’ gets jaunty with a banjo pulse, erupting electric guitars, and a great big (and very lovable) chorus. These are, indeed, “strange bedfellows” but that’s the eerie ethos of the record. Not only that, but the song serves as a soundtrack for those of us who should really attend a Thrift Shoppers Anonymous meeting.
The record shoots up signal flares with more desperate songs. ‘Give Me What You Got’ is slow, passionate, and out and out scary in its depiction of our modern world. Again, the music coils with melodic fear. And ‘King Cambyses’ is even more urgent as it cites the story of said King Cambyses II and his Persian army, who, on their way to capture the Oracle of Amun at the Siwa Oasis (as one often did in those days!) mysteriously disappeared into a big sandstorm. The sad secret of their demise serves as a metaphoric tale for all the unexplained stuff that fascinates the ever-willful frontal brain lobe that desires to create order out of way too much chaos! It’s a nice song that pleads, “I believe in ghosts”.
And calling all history buffs! For in in-depth study into the strange disappearance of King Cambyses’ army, check the online article in Sci News that details the research of Professor Olaf Kaper!
That said, the song gives a really nice mysterious depth to the album.
And, by the way, the “dare” I mentioned several paragraphs ago (about the elephant in the room), well, I told the truth to avoid the dare of listening to Jake Bugg’s third album where he lost the folky plot and tried to rap his way into the mainstream media.
In contrast, similar vocals aside, Tom West continues to burn with tough embers.
A few songs up the acoustic ante. ‘Lost Mountain’ has a nice acoustic guitar that gives a nod toward Canada’s Bruce Cockburn. That’s another compliment. Again, the tune sizzles with passion with a thoughtful vocal that confronts the intrigue of life.
By the way, who did “put the bullet hole in Peggy’s kitchen wall?”
There’s more acoustic stuff. ‘Can You Hear The Birds Calling?’ is quiet and quite lovely as it lingers on the cusp of despair, yet it never loses that smokey soul voice and adds a fun house violin ride into the mix. ‘Suffer For Your Love’ is acoustic guitar driven, with all sorts of weird sounds, including a nice sax bit, while the whole thing (sort of) dissolves into psychological melodic magma. Once again, Tom West creates a simple sampler of a tune and then frames it with urgent instrumental backing. This one wobbles just a bit. And ‘Prescription For Reality’ oozes with an (almost) Eastern vibe and is a patient like a tuneful solar eclipse.
That Eastern vibe continues with ‘Left Wing Rebels’ as a banjo plucks a strident melody, and the music swells with a big melodic (and sadly resigned) pulse. The tune touches the root of deeply planted and highly emotive folk music. Perhaps, Fairport Convention should cover this song. That’s a huge compliment.
And, finally, ‘I’m Livin’’, is pure folk music–with big background drama, simple honesty, and very a melodic vocal sung by a man with an always simmering soul who continues to question every slow step (with a thunderstorm thrown into the for good measure!) danced under an ancient moon into a starry evening that never wants a really nice folk album to ever end.
Artist’s website: https://www.tomwestmusic.com.au/
‘Can You Hear The Birds Calling?’ – official video: