Little Thoughts: Three Records with James Fenney

Little Thoughts is a brand-new monthly guest post series where music fans and writers cover three albums, new or old, that they think deserve to be heard. The series itself is named after a Bloc Party song. This month features James Fenney of Belwood Music, another music blog that I admire. Just like Adam Reeve, James and I were introduced via Twitter, and I’ve quickly become a fan of his writing. I wrote a guest post on his site in late 2017, so I was thrilled when he agreed to return the favor!

Hi there, I’m James: music lover and tea addict. I was a bit of a late bloomer when it came to music, making do with whatever CDs my parents had lying around for the most part, but I’ve since been making up for lost time, looking for wonderful music in all different shapes and forms. I love to share the incredible art that means so much to me, so here are three albums I feel are extra special.

Foy Vance – Joy of Nothing (2013)

81aKj1wT2uL._SY355_.jpgLeaving the countryside, driving into the big city ready to move into a new place, I heard a song on the radio that changed my life. It was a track called “Closed Hand, Full Of Friends”, ironically about leaving the city and moving to the countryside, from a Northern Irish singer/songwriter called Foy Vance. I don’t know what it is that captured my imagination, all I know is that before I’d bothered unpacking, saying hello to my flatmates, or even looking around the new place, I had sat down and listened to all his music and spent hours looking up live performances on YouTube.

A lot of great music has come and gone since then, but Joy of Nothing has remained my all-time favorite album. Whether it’s the soulful passion of “Feel For Me”, the gritty heartbreak of “Regarding Your Lover”, or the soft and tender folk of “Guiding Light”, Foy’s golden voice is an experience that I hope to share with as many people as I can. Backed on this record by a string quartet, the gorgeous atmosphere ties the songs together to make this album greater than the sum of its parts. The whole record feels like morning mist over wild serene hillsides, slowly fading to let in the sun.

Jeff Buckley – Grace (1994)

Jeff_Buckley_grace.jpgWe all know “Hallelujah”, and like most people, that was my first experience with Jeff Buckley. I heard the song make a real resurgence during my adolescence and I’d heard that his was the definitive version. I was in a habit at the time of letting my allowance burn a hole in my pocket, buying CDs on a whim and deciding later whether I actually liked them or not (just think how much richer I’d be now if Spotify was around back then). I think perhaps Grace was just a bit too much too soon for my young mind, and it took years before it finally clicked. 

When I eventually returned to it many years later, it was like hearing it for the first time. Jeff was a truly singular artist, and once you’ve heard Grace you begin to see his influence everywhere. You could have a team of songwriters and musicians working away for years and still never come close to Jeff’s performances of “Last Goodbye” or “Lover, You Should’ve Come Over”. I wonder when we’ll again see an artist with such range and such diverse talents.

In just a couple of tracks, he goes from the angelic elegance of “Corpus Christi Carol” to the raw, unrelenting heavy metal of “Eternal Life”. Tragically, this was the only album he released before his death, and one can’t help but wonder how different music as a whole would be if he was still with us.

The Dear Hunter – Act IV: Rebirth in Reprise (2015)

91UsZyeoJuL._SY355_.jpgOkay, so this one is a bit of a cheat, as in a way I’m recommending five albums at once here. I’m a devout lover of concept albums, and so discovering The Dear Hunter a few years ago was like a religious experience for me. Much of their discography all links together to tell the story of one man’s life and all the peril and mistakes that occur along the way.

Set around WWI and the roaring twenties, over the course of five albums it incorporates elements of rock, metal, swing, blues, jazz, classical, disco… you get the idea! If you’re a massive nerd like myself, you can take delight in following the story and feeling a giddy thrill when you hear one of your favorite tracks from an earlier album get reprised.

Act IV was the album that sealed the deal for me. 1-3 certainly have their moments but the songwriting, the production and the sheer scope of the project just increased exponentially with this one. It’s by far the most accessible record in the series, acting as a great stand-alone album or as the perfect entry point to delve deeper. The killer chorus of “The Old Haunt” will ironically haunt you for years to come, “The Bitter Suite IV and V” is one of the standout moments of the whole saga as the villainous priest addresses his congregation, and I defy anyone not to bop along to “The Squeaky Wheel” or “King of Swords”. The more work you put into this band, the more reward you get in turn, but if I had to pick just one album, it would be this.

Thanks for your time, and special thanks to Abby for inviting me to take part in Little Thoughts. Keep being your wonderful selves and never stop looking for more great new music!

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