Lee Southall : Iron in the FireApril 2017 : Wonderfulsound
Lee Southall was a founder member of The Coral, releasing seven albums with them before an amicable split / extended hiatus. Fatherhood and a move to the stark environment of the hills above Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire may have spurred his initial decisions, but no matter - he is now establishing himself as as solo singer songwriter, a career choice entirely validated by Iron in the Fire, his debut album.
If you want to find a direct link to his musical past in this record, then you might take Walking in Winter, a Coral song he co-wrote, as the best point of connection. You might also find a keen, eclectic pop-honed sensibility in the way these new songs are written - after those points of contact, this is a departure.
The mood of Iron in the Fire is muted, late evening and autumnal; even when the tempo quickens it can feel like an October storm. As noted esewhere, at times a resemblance is evident in the guitar playing with that of Bert Jansch or John Renbourn, but there is much more Gram Parsons and James Taylor in the tone, pace and lyrical preoccupations of the compositions - a cover of Parson's Wild Horses could be placed imperceptibly into the sequence of tracks. Despite these near ancient antecedents it is a modern, lovingly produced, crafted work.
Listened to in one sitting the album is a coherent whole - although the rhythm speeds for the fluent folk pop of Shade of Blue and the final vibrance of the closing song In Accordance, nothing jars your absorption. In the ebb and flow of the music the delicate, evocative cello of Misty Mae elevates it to being a highlight, and the gentle, bucolic Americana of Yesterday Morning is another.
Every song seems influenced by place, the lyrical themes are often grounded in nature, sky and weather. There is also an inescapable human warmth - this is an album Southall crafted at home, and there is a palpable homespun intimacy throughout; at times you can picture the flames in the woodburner as the music was worked on.
If there is a criticism, it's that Iron in the Fire, with all its subtle hues and colours, takes few listens to work its charm - its impact then inevitably grows to reveal an album of genuine depth and restrained elegance. Not so much the embers of a substantial career, but the slow burning fire of a new one.
LEE SOUTHALL I Iron in the Fire