THE STRANGE ENCOUNTERS – All In The Mind (Ports of Call Music)

All In The MindOr Kreutzmüller and Armstrong, that too probably enough to evoke blank looks, unless you live in Germany, that is, where the band/duo have been a fixture, give or take pandemics, since 2018. The name, Joe Armstrong, a singer and guitarist, may scratch an itch, having been a musical associate of Nikki Sudden, amongst others, as well as being a stalwart of country-blues warhorses, Two Dollar Bash, along with Mark Mulholland. Kreutzmüller is a drummer, latterly multi-instrumentalist, and has a backstory of some note on the German circuit. Together they make sweet jangle.

Jangle? That sweet spot where country and rock meet about, often, a Rickenbacker electric 12 string. Byrdsian, even, in the old money, before Europeans took the genre for a walk, gave it a good talking to, and came up with a more complete hybrid, with a wider frame of reference. The Scots are especially good at this, Teenage Fanclub possibly the standard bearers for this agreeable format. So, as the adage goes, if you like them…..

Let’s explore. ‘Don’t Hold Back’ opens with a glorious cascade of guitars and organ, before the vocals chime in, with more than a flicker of McGuinn crossed with Clark. An immediate ear-worm, it augurs well, the organ sound that background swell that washes over the whole. It all feels so knowingly 60s into 70s as to mark it current. ‘Recognise’ picks right up from the fade with a sparkly progression that feels pure Glaswegiana, down to the unfussiness of the rhythm section. A slight twang on the guitar could be banjo, but isn’t.

‘Surveillance Town’ does actually have a banjo backdrop and is a swirlier construction. It is sometimes hard which of the two is singing, it arguably mattering little, the sweet spot coming when they share. Raga like, it repeats perhaps a tad long, but that effect is likely intended. ‘Under The Sun’ rights that with an instant hit that wouldn’t disgrace The Monkees. Yes, those ones, always more creditworthy than convention might dictate, the song then going up a further notch with some sour-sweet harmonies. And, if there is a hint of ‘Ticket To Ride’ in there too, well, all the better.

‘Different’ is, with a keyboard base and clipped guitars, what might pass, back in the day, as AOR. Or Beatle-y, even, in melody, west coast in construction, with a touch of incipient psychedelia lurking in the eaves. ‘An Hour Or A Day’ confirms it probably was mellotron in the track ahead it, the more obvious sprawl thereof gracing this song. Another slower and more thoughtful song, it shows these ponies have several tricks. ‘They Keep Walking By’ then suddenly introduces a full Difford/Tillbrook ambience, which, thinking it through, shouldn’t be that surprising.

‘Twenty Sixteen’ has a cowboy timbre about the opening motif, ahead of becoming another carefully layered minor chord ode to possibilities. The organ is back on full swash and swathe, a guitar solo echoing freakier times. An agreeable mix of sources. The (power)poppier ‘Thinkin’/Drinkin’’uses strummed mandolin to add a sheen from elsewhere, if paired with more of that Merseybeat guitar, the vocal now channelling an upbeat John Lennon. Curiously effective, it shouldn’t gel as well as it does, the melody the glue.

‘A Smile For Everyone’ is the big ballad, over a piano torn between cliche and homage. Strings, faux and otherwise bluster in and out. The weakest track for this reviewer, it becomes all a bit lighters in the sky and Robbie Williams. Somewhat frustratingly, some of that mood seeps into the next song too, ‘The Boy In The Mirror’, ahead lurching up a gear, as it then offers a decent nod to the late Karl Wallinger’s work; the Williams/Wallinger interface is not lost on me. By the end of the song, even more paradoxically, and on repeated listens, it becomes a favourite. Fake ending alert, too, which is neat, raising a smile for this longest track on the album.

The closer is ‘Long Lost Days’, a fiddle, guitar and banjo clip-clop swayalong,  to convey it all winding down. As electricity strikes up into the second verse, the contrasting factions find some common ground that meet, amicably, across the grain, delivering a message that sums up the larger part of All In The Mind: “Lay your head across my shoulder, let me see you smile”. This song, and by default, the whole record had me smiling.

Seuras Og

Artist’s website:

‘Thinkin’/Drinkin’’ – live in 2018:

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