The Northampton Underground [ShoeTown Records]
Northampton singer-songwriter Shorty [aka Chris White] has quickly followed up his enticing 2017 album Abington Park with a big collaborative effort. It’s an album almost thirty years in the making [at least the concept – of a big group effort with strings and brass – is a long held desire of White].
The title is reference to the 2014 spoof that Northampton once had an underground train system in the early 20th century, which has the immediately impact of warmth towards the album. It surely also works as a metaphor for many of the players on the this album and what they represent. And make no mistake, this is a very Northampton album. The inlay artwork has the London Underground map with stations annotated with ShoeTown places of interest to Shorty [everything from ‘Cobblers and ‘Semilong’ to in-jokes like ‘John’s House’].
White, a former member over the years of The Clique, Happy in Heaven, and Abbey Park, has assembled some of the town’s best talent to bring his vision to life. Some of P-Hex are here, for example. Local cheesemonger Stevie Ward serves up guitar left right and centre. And so on and forth. Musically over fourteen tracks and forty-seven minutes there’s a little something for everyone. Let’s delve in, shall we?
‘(I’ll Be Your) Plus One’ is a 70s style glamish romp with ELO harmonies. Roxy-style sax solo is a touch too. ‘It’s Alright’ and ‘Out In The Sun’ later on cover similar ground [aural comfort blankets for the winter months]. ‘How Can This Be Love?’ is the first of two performances featuring Californian singer Danie Hollobaugh, who shares leads vocal on this nice, if saccharine, duet. ‘I’ll Find A Place’, the other song, is sadly a flat, rather derivative outing. ‘Feeding the Duchess’ is an alt-country with rasping bluesy harmonica intro from Dom Strickland [The Clique]. It’s melodic and inviting, as it details domestic bliss [“I’ll buy you a Chinese on Friday night”]. ‘I Wish’ contains more Wilco-esque musings, and White has this style down pat.
‘Caravan’ has Lindsay Spence and Nathan Bundy from P-Hex joining in on the baggy dystopian stomper that is a lot of fun. ‘Stay with Me’ is pure soft-rock with Fleetwood Mac vocals. ‘There Was a Time’ has Andy Orr (drummer with The Scene and Small World) on it. It is Beatles-esque psychedelia on the production side [backwards guitar, compressed Hammond, etc], it’s very charming in its period detail. ‘Ticket by Chance’ brings on the soul-jazz flavours – plenty of flute! – a Weller meets Mayfield sort of thing. Lovely too it is.
‘Thank You’ is gorgeous stringed pop that really needs to be heard by everyone who reads this review. Go stream right now in fact. ‘As I Wait Alone for You’ and ‘I Said a Thing or Two’ finish the album in melancholic balladry style, both featuring Martin Stephenson [of The Daintees fame] on piano and guitar. They are quietly affecting; the mariachi trumpet opening the final song setting the mood just right.
The Northampton Underground is a sprawling, often very pleasing, piece of work. Dip in and find your version of Shorty that’s suited to you, then spread the good word amongst your NN friends.