Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Raintown – Hope In Troubled Times (CD Review)


Raintown – Hope In Troubled Times (CD Review)



1. Light the Fuse Up 2. Ship Of Fools 3. Picture of Us 4. Just One Kiss 5. Falling Backwards
6. Love’s Got A Hold On You 7. Hope In Troubled Times 8. I Won’t Dance Alone
9. What Matters Most 10. The Road Never Ends 11. The Last Song

Label: Raintown Partners (P) 2010 Raintown Partners
Digital Release – 8 November 2010 (iTunes)
Time - 42:40
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This is the country debut for couple, Paul Bain and Claire McArthur who hail from Easterhouse, Glasgow. They call themselves Raintown, the name taken from the 1987 debut album from Scottish pop band Deacon Blue. They have somewhat burst onto the scene with 2 promotional singles. They have played in Nashville, firstly as part of a British invasion performing at an International Party on the night before the 44th Country Music Association Awards in November 2010 and then the sole UK representatives in May 2011 at the ‘CMA Global Artist Showcase’ (see photo ) at the start of CMA Fest 2011.

On there website they describe themselves as: “A contemporary twist on Country Music; from its roots fusing the infectious elements of great pop songs with roots based instrumentation and a conversational writing style of Country Music”. Influences are drawn from Pink, Brad Paisley, Christina Aguilera, Take That, Sugarland, Lady Antebellum, Keith Urban and Rascal Flatts.

HOPE IN TROUBLED TIMES was recorded at Frielance Studios in Glasgow under the stewardship of Greg Friel who both produces this 11-track album, and as “the third spoke”, co-writes on all the tracks with Paul & Claire. Raintown supply the vocals backed by session players Stevie Lawrence(guitars/bouzouki/mandolin), Fiona Cuthill (strings) and Greg Friel.

As the album title implies a few of the tracks offer hope, faith and trust but the underlining themes are love in its many disguises: shades of love, lost love, taking a chance on love, being lonely for love, themes of unrequited love and turning back on love.

After the swampy intro the dynamite couple quickly ignite the touch paper with a fiery start on the rocker ‘Light the Fuse Up’. It’s time to put the past behind and grasp the moment as they sing: You never know what you might find, if you take a little chance – Get up and just dance!

Ship Of Fools’ has both Celtic flavours and pop leanings in the mix. In this conversation piece a couple who’ve had it all let love slip away and grow apart when a partner strays – “Save your lies and tears for her not me / you’ve made your bed with someone else”. There’s no going back as those empty words so cold and cruel fall on fallow ground.

The undoubted album highlight is the second single with the gentle and lovely ‘Picture of Us’. With an aching fiddle and delicate piano storm clouds cover summer skies as the female character looks at her wedding photos on the sideboard. They are but faded memories as dreams are shattered as a couple are unable to live up to those blissful moments. Will they get back together - Maybe? On this number Bain and McArthurs’ vocals combine beautifully in the air, the harmonies are sweet and they hit the emotional jackpot.

A clock ticks slowly as a new dawn breaks on the first single (see video) ‘Just One Kiss’, but the beat quickens. After those tentative first steps of love it’s time to believe in ones convictions and make a change for a better life – “You gave me hope now my life has meaning Dreams are made of so much more than this” It’s melody and structure in the chorus brought to mind Hal Ketchum’s “Sure Love”.

On the slow-paced, romantic and tender ballad ‘Falling Backwards’ live strings & synthesized sampling is used to good effect. There have been bittersweet moments but love is treasured as fears and hurt melt away in the safety of a lovers arms.

Love’s Got A Hold On You’ opens with some bluesy notes then quickly develops into a catchy, danceable fun-soaked country love tune. The chorus line is reminiscent of Lady Antebellum’s “Love’s Lookin’ Good On You”, a group they tip their hats to. This girl who can light up a room needs no pretty flowers when true love is found and appreciated.

The production has a similar template to ‘Picture of Us’ and is a slightly muddied on the title cut ‘Hope In Troubled Times’. The emotion pours out but at times the vocals are a little forced.

The softly ‘I Won’t Dance Alone’ with its sweet yet honest sentiment derives from a conversation years ago which Paul’s had with his late grandmother after she lost her life and dance partner. The words have universal appeal and could easily apply to a couple who have fallen out of love and part. The heartache is felt in a now empty home and an onlooker remembers the times they held each other so tight on the dance floor.

The poppy and up-tempo ‘What Matters Most’ conveys the simple act of giving is more important than personal possessions in striving to maintain a lifestyle when chasing endless dreams.

The only hitch in the proceedings is the gritty ‘The Road Never Ends’ where the diction is not always audible and vocally a little weak performance wise. It reflects on the everyday struggles to meet the bills and seeking a way to jump off the work treadmill.

Paul Bain offers his best vocal on the opening verses to the romance-layered ‘The Last Song’ and then Claire McArthur also adds her own excellent intimacy. Then as they sing the chorus in unison the cares of your day will vanish.

Raintown blend pop and country sounds and stir in a dose of Celtic roots. They could well bring new devotees to the contemporary-country fold. I’m sure this ambitious duo will strive to add some variety to improve on their song craft and perfect their sound. This debut suggests much promise for the future.


Livewire


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