I’ve put Jimi Alexander & The Satellites on a few times now, mainly because I love them. I can never help writing “Ryan Adams-esque” on the gig posters though. Once upon a time this would’ve been a compliment. Now I should probably write “This is the sound of Ryan Adams removing his head from his own arse, taking a good look around, grabbing the bottle of whiskey from his bedside table with both hands, consuming it and writing some fucking awesome alt.country songs.”
Maybe I should’ve left that until the end.
There’s not a dull moment on this album, opener Baby Don’t sets the mood, continued with New York City Never Came. Third track, Queen Of Denmark cranks the album up a notch. The song charts a long distance relationship, ‘every time I see you, my heart skips a beat’, and the feeling you get when meeting up with someone you can’t have. It has a Felice Brothers feel to it and that Dylan like shuffling beat driving it along. The chorus almost makes me believe that love isn’t something mythical, only written about in 19th century literature. Almost.
Last Chance Saloon takes the pace back down, with only Jimi’s mournful vocals and acoustic guitar present until cellist Lucy Burke joins the maudlin party with her vocals. Held In My Arms continues in this vein until the arrival of slide guitar. Now slide guitar makes everything sound brilliant but this particular number sounds like it’s being sung while slumped over a bar after one too many at the end of a night out. Your mates have gone home but you’re not quite ready to, it’s just you, the barman and one last beer. Maybe I’ll put a treatment for a video together. The song builds on it’s sparse beginnings with cello, piano and harmonica added to the melting pot and ends with Jimi heading out of the tavern into the night air, with jacket slung over shoulder, home to his true love. It would in the video anyway.
Wayward Soul revs the engine a little and actually sounds something like a country Oasis. This is a good thing. Sort of ‘The Girl In The Dirty Shirt ‘with Victoria Williams on backing vocals. The title track should also appeal to a crossover crowd. The term alt.country tends to scare people off but Burn A Little Brighter, with it’s ‘I’m so in love with you’ refrain, could easily be the song to slow dance to at the school disco or could replace Snow Patrol’s more ‘lighter in the air’ moments on mother’s car stereos everywhere. All this without it sounding any less like it was made by whiskey soaked Steve Earle fans.
One Long Winter and Celtic Legend are good songs in their own right (indeed, Jimi sounds like he’s going to burst into tears on the latter), they just suffer the misfortune of being sandwiched in between the aforementioned potential festival closing anthem and the epic album closer, Hallelujah I’m Alive.
Hallelujah is a beautiful song, an ode to life, which begins with the sound of waves breaking on a shore. Maybe I’m just really open to suggestion but when the vocals recede seven minutes in (I did say it was epic), and you can hear the waves re-emerge beneath the cello, violin and guitar outro, I wanted to venture outside and appreciate the natural world that surrounds us. Unfortunately it was pissing down and my garden is made of concrete.
This album is a lesson in restraint, there maybe six members in the band but they’re only used if they’re needed. There’s no ‘we’ve got a fuzzbox and we’re going to use it’ attitude here. Many of the songs don’t have bass or drums and three of the tracks were recorded live with just Jimi, Lucy and Mat on guitar. There’s a slightly gothic feel to some of the album, not sinister, just that Sun Kil Moon type darkness, there’s always light at the end of the tunnel though. It feels like there’s quest to get somewhere, to return to your roots, to your love, or just to the place you call home.
I should start writing “Whiskeytown-esque” on those posters as Ryan Adams hasn’t written anything this good since his mates ran off (OK, maybe Heartbreaker but that would ruin my point). Buy this album and check the band out live where the shackles come off and they rock like Neil Young at an air guitar contest.