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It’s a real joy to hear a new disc from Peter Bruntnell, commonly regarded as one the best songwriters and performers around these days. It’s also commonly acknowledged that he is woefully unheard by the record buying public despite acres of news print over the past 20 years singing his praises. A peek into those archives would surely make him blush with all the superlatives lavished on him over the years and it’s certain that more will follow in the wake of King Of Madrid’s release. It’s one of those albums which make’s one’s heart melt a little as its sumptuous layers of sound swell around his lugubrious voice whether he be singing over jangled power pop or pastoral delights.
The album opens with a doleful church bell tolling over synthesised keyboards before blossoming into a gorgeous mix of piano and pedal steel guitar as the song, Broken Wing, glides perfectly, distilling all that is great about Bruntnell. There’s a melancholic beauty to the song which is perfectly poised between its driving acoustic guitar with piano and pedal steel flourishes and a closing electric guitar solo which fades far too soon. Bruntnell sings wonderfully and the harmonies are superb, it kicks off the album with a bang but it’s only a taster really for the feast which follows.
Bruntnell roams from rockers- the churning Beatles like guitar pop of Dinosaur and the chiming neo psychedelic glory of Thief Of Joy – to more contemplative numbers such as Widows Walk which has some of that fractured vulnerability one associates with Sparklehorse, and Memory Hood, a magnificent exercise in nostalgia worthy of Ray Davies. Reminding one of Bruntnell’s anti Trump song, Mr. Sunshine, on Nos Da Comrade, National Library takes aim at David Cameron and his foolhardy referendum along with those others who will sail on regardless of any Brexit outcome. There’s not one song here which doesn’t arrest the listener. King Of Madrid is a splendidly understated gem with creamy pedal steel from maestro BJ Cole, London Clay is another song evocative of Ray Davies’ Kinks and Snow Queen floats regally over a mesmerising mist of guitars and keyboards as Bruntnell again burrows into nostalgia with an opaque mix of Dennis Potter and Hans Christian Anderson.
With a basic crew of Bruntnell on vocals, keyboards and guitars along with Mick Clews on drums and Peter Noone on bass, there are appearances from BJ Cole and Iain Sloan on pedal steel, David Little on guitar and James Walbourne on keyboards. The album is a wonderful texture of sounds with electric guitar forever waiting to be let off the leash while acoustic layers wash the songs and keyboards add to the sonic tapestry. Foremost however is Bruntnell’s mastery of the song and his excellent delivery. Surely, one of the best albums we’ll hear this year.