Findlay Napier. Image : Elly Lucas
Findlay Napier : It Is What It IsThe Bothy Society : 1st October 2021
This, Findlay Napier’s fourth solo outing, is a happy accident.
Following the quietly mesmeric traditional folk of The Ledger, It Is What It Is returns the singer-songwriter to the more contemporary range of his first two albums - in the process justifying a tag of ‘Caledonian Costello’ (to cut and shut two widely cited previous references) with greater accuracy than at any other point in his career.
Napier assembled a group of talented, fluent musicians for the new recordings. The result is a marvel.
If you are coming at It Is What It Is from the sublime and spartan street corner folk of Glasgow (2017), you might need a little time to adjust your ears.
The exuberance that Angus Lyon's piano affords, the exhilaration in some of the arrangements and lyrics with a personal focus are evolutions in style that slightly jar with anticipation at first.
Yet, given a few spins for familiarity, It Is What It Is resonates emotionally exactly as a Findlay Napier album should.
Even with the most cursory listen, there is a sense of joyful release caught in the music. This is contextual, as Findlay relates,
“I hadn’t intended to make an album. It was an accident. Producer and pianist Angus Lyon thought it might be fun for us to record for a day when the first lockdown ended. I thought two days would be more fun. By the end of those two days, we’d completed eight songs. In all, we drew from around 35 songs I had in notebooks and on my phone, with Angus editing them down to the 12 we have here.”
Barring a couple of co-writes with Boo Hewerdine and sharing the title track with Angus Lyon, all the songs are Napier’s own work. The band he and Lyon drew together (which includes Megan Henwood, Euan Burton and Gillian Frame) to detail and enliven the original recordings is mostly from the folk world, but that base does not limit their imaginations.
Rather than entertain a rapt Tuesday evening folk club, Napier and his cohorts have produced an album to spellbind a packed Friday night bierkeller.
In that setting, the upbeat, shuffling groove of I’ve Never
Been Wrong (its theme of narcissism sung as from the
viewpoint of Donald Trump) would animate any audience; the dance
of Euan Burton's bass and Louis Abbot's sure drumming make certain
You can (almost) hear the whoops as a long-remembered tourist is skewered with disdain over the malign electric momentum of Canadian singer-songwriter Terra Lightfoot's guitar in American Promise, American Lies .
And, if you want to find a late-night bar ballad, Under the Moon’s plaintive tone offers the perfect place to look.
There is more delight stored beyond those standout tracks.
Risking politics with just one word used to distraction, La La La Song sets the Tory Party’s policy on Brexit and Coronavirus to music - devoid of meaningful content yet insanely memorable. When the current British cabinet is shipped to an island-cum-penal colony for perpetuity, this song will inevitably become their lonely national anthem, their due punishment to sing it without pause, forever.
There is undoubted lyrical sophistication too. Madison Avenue
Worry Lines is the subtlest anti-advertising song you might
hear. Once understood, it is both a powerful statement and a
lovely composition - deftly arranged, with Megan Henwood’s backing
vocal lifting the chorus beautifully.
Last to Leave concludes the album with piano, voice and melancholy poetry, as a janitor closes an empty theatre whilst reflecting on the unreachable adulation of taking the stage.
In the CD's notes Napier alludes to listening to David Crosby’s If I Could Only Remember My Name and Harry Nilsson’s Nilsson Sings Newman, inspiring both playfulness and experimentation in the studio.
The impact of these influences is clear.
Listen intently and the songs of It Is What It Is possess the moment you are in. This beguiling album, in ambition a second cousin of Elvis Costello's Punch the Clock, reaffirms Findlay Napier as a distinct and cultivated singer-songwriter, with a spirited voice all of his own.