It's taken a few years, but at last the enigmatic and talented Shamus Dark has released a follow-up to 2013's Trouble In Paradise (Bunker Media, 2013)the stylish and sophisticated Through A Glass Darkly. The London-based vocalist focused on Songbook classics on his previous release, and for much of this album he does the same, but this time he's delved into post-punk and blues, with songs by Gary Clark, Jr., Elvis Costello and the members of Joy Division joining compositions from the likes of Sammy Cahn and Jimmy Van Heusen.
Dark opens proceedings with the album's most surprising track, Joy Division's "New Dawn Fades." The song is built around a haunting piano phrase and Dark's vocal delivery captures the sadness of Ian Curtis's words. Costello's "Almost Blue" is plaintive, the longing in the lyric beautifully portrayed by Dark and guitarist Adrian Sledmere over a spectral electronic "choir" from producer/arranger Peter Millward. "Baby Blue No.2," was written by blues musician Clark and borrows a phrase or two from Bob Dylan, but its theme of lost love fits right in with the jazz standards (although this time the "choir" becomes too dominant at times).
Dark has chosen the Songbook classics well (Millward might also have had a say). They're all romantic, but portray romance in different ways: from the relaxed, comfortable romance of "The Moon Is Yellow" ("My love is mellow ...") to the reflective and regretful "Only The Lonely" via the love of the dream that is "Laura" (featuring Ruth Elder's lovely violin solo). Milward's "Smoke" is a musically dense, almost claustrophobic, a tale of unrequited love, or maybe it's infatuation, told by Dark over a deep bass riff.
Dark's vocals are smooth and measured: the added element of fragility that was noticeable on Trouble In Paradise is often apparent and adds another emotional level to his interpretations of these often melancholy and downbeat lyrics. Without exception, the instrumental solos add to the atmosphere Millward crafts with his arrangements, but special mention must go to Jens Bunge's harmonica on "The Moon Was Yellow" and Michael Kurtz' muted trumpet on "Just Friends" and "Night And Day." All in all, Through A Glass Darkly is a winning combination of well-chosen songs, sympathetic arrangements, beautifully-crafted instrumental solos and Dark's mature, wordly vocals.
New Dawn Fades; Laura; The Moon Was Yellow; Almost Blue; Just Friends; All Or Nothing At All;
The Night We Called It A Day; Baby Blue No 2; Only The Lonely; Everything Happens To Me; The
Gal That Got Away; Night And Day; Smoke.
Shamus Dark: vocals; Pete Millward: producer & arranger; Ruth Elder: violin; Michael Kurtz: trumpet;
Pao: guitar; Adrian Sledmere: guitar; Jens Bunge: harmonica; Rob Hughes: flute.
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