(Tick Tock Records, 2018)
Ain’t life just so bitter-sweet?
– Clockwork Carousel, ‘Country (in G)’ (2018)
Here at Lion & Unicorn, we’ve never gone in for reviewing long-playing albums – and certainly not new releases. But then, we’ve never had one of our own writers be involved in such a thing before, and we’re not going to let the occasion go unmarked when it arises. Step forward then, Ben Finlay, appearing here in his guise as multi-instrumentalist with the New Forest group Clockwork Carousel.
Actually, he’s credited on the sleeve as Garth Finlay, in tribute apparently to Garth Hudson of the Band. And that’s not a bad reference point to start from. Nor would be the fact that they’ve shared a bill with Ronnie Lane’s old band, Slim Chance. So if you think of late-1960s Americana, filtered through 1970s bucolic British rock, but with contemporary songwriting, you’d be on the right sort of lines.
As that might suggest, the dominant tone is mid-tempo melancholy, though the material ranges from the Stonesy riffing of ‘Heat Seeking Missile’ to the bruised pop of ‘All of My Heart’, which sounds like Billy Swan could have covered it. Rather more fanciful (on my part) is a belief that ‘I Guess You Win’ has more than a hint of late-period Anthony Newley about it; but I’m fairly sure that this is just me. Best of all is the magnificent ‘Stop the Enquiry’, which builds into a stately epic that’s not far removed from Mott the Hoople – higher praise than which I can scarcely imagine.
And as that in turn suggests, it’s beautifully arranged and produced, presumably the benefit of being recorded in their own studio, the Cow Pen, without the usual constraints of time. The bed is a blend of guitars (acoustic, electric, lap steel, er, mandolin), augmented from time to time by around a dozen guest musicians, filling in on reeds, keyboards and more guitars.
When it gets big, it gets very big indeed, the sound thickened by a layer of backing vocals. And if the words sometimes get lost, the textures of singer Martin Gregory’s voice are perfect, and surprisingly diverse: weary, tender and bullish as appropriate. I’ve not seen them playing, but I assume they’re rowdier at gigs than they are here; unusually for a debut album, this has the feel of a band pushing far beyond their live set.
Incidentally, when I referred to this as a long playing album, that wasn’t intended merely as kitsch affectation; structurally, this is a splendidly old-fashioned piece of work, sequenced deliberately (so it feels) as two sides of vinyl, with five songs apiece. Just like it’s 1974 again. I’d recommend you listen to it like this, taking a break halfway through – really, it’s a joy to be reminded of how all the best albums used to have an atmospheric arc on each side.
The main thing, though: do listen to it. I like it a great deal, and, knowing you, I suspect you will as well.
now read on…
Clockwork Carousel can be found on Facebook
and the album is available to stream on Spotify