Tom Blackwell : Memphis Volume V05 October 2020 : Spoonful
It is sixteen years since Tom Blackwell first picked up a guitar and moved to Liverpool. In that time he has released six albums, recorded in Nashville and been critically acclaimed.
Born on the outskirts of London, Tom spent a year in Hong Kong shortly after, followed by a roaming childhood that finally took root in Cornwall. Never tethered unnecessarily to a place, after he first moved to Liverpool he temporarily shifted to the other end of the Manchester Ship Canal for a few years - and there started to write his own songs and play live, beginning with regular appearances at Chorlton Folk Club.
The intimate acoustic music venues of Manchester also kindled Tom’s enduring love for American roots and folk, and a strong desire to connect to the music in its homeland.
A much dreamed of stateside trip became a reality in 2014. Funded by a period couch-hopping whilst saving the money earned from gigs and pot washing, Tom spent three months in the US, with only his flights to and from New York booked as certainties.
Travelling light, he ended up in Nashville, with an album’s worth of songs written on the road - and recorded a studio debut, Tyrone the Gun, in the hallowed city, working with local sound engineers on front porches and in spare rooms.
Tyrone the Gun was widely lauded - featuring in Country Music People’s end-of-year list in 2015 - but in the short term led only to collaborative opportunities that Tom felt at odds with.
After much thought, and having finally settled back in the heart of Liverpool, the itinerant singer-songwriter committed to a two-year plan to record stripped back, emotive versions of his early songs for the five volume Memphis series - using just guitar, voice and the punctuating melancholy of a plaintive harmonica.
Memphis Volume V is the end and the high-point of that project - concluding it with nine songs as authentic and honest as they are mesmeric.
As with all four preceding albums of the Memphis series, Volume V was recorded in Blackwell’s home studio, which is in a flat on a wide, tree-lined street in Liverpool’s bohemian Georgian Quarter - the space in the new music perhaps reflects this atmospheric, unique location, as much as it reflects the well of blues, folk, soul and gospel influences that the prolific singer-songwriter drew deeply from in his time in America.
There is a vital immediacy to the new album’s sound - with the spare arrangements always leaving room for a soulful vocal to tell each lyrical story unhindered.
Opener To Die For sets the standard - drifting from the speakers with a sound akin to watching a lone cormorant skim along the edge of a shoreline. The tracks that follow are equally flawless and full of grace, until the heart-rending sadness of 7 x Blues brings proceedings to a muted and moving close.
Listen in quiet reverie, and there is uncharted magic at work here - found as Memphis Volume V’s songs create their own soft-hued worlds from the alchemy of finger-picked guitar and vocal.