Whilst other singer/songwriters are getting choirs in and tidying up the edges with more than a liberal dash of Pro Tools, Stephen Fretwell is going his own way. Following on from the acclaimed 2004 album Magpie and the Four Letter Words EP released earlier this year, this Scunthorpe-born artist has delivered yet another impressive offering.
The fact that Fretwell headed to New York to write and record Man On The Roof has no doubt influenced its sound. Subtle hints of Americana flow through this release, which gives off resounding echoes of early Dylan and Springsteen in both the voice and music. With contributions from former Smashing Pumpkins guitarist James Iha and Fountains Of Wayne's Adam Schlesinger, Fretwell is no longer a loan troubadour.
From the vaudeville-flavoured swagger of 'Coney', with its heavily distorted microphones and calls of 'Boom, cha-cha boom' (which wouldn't sound out of place in a boozy bar room at 2am), to the subdued brilliance of 'Bumper Cars', this album has an undeniably quixotic sheen. But it's perhaps 'Darlin' Don't' that is the standout, although at under three minutes its brevity is frustrating. Achingly beautiful and expertly constructed, it is one of those perfect bittersweet ballads that makes you long for a reprise.
After reading the sleeve notes, which give a cheeky nod to the album's title by thanking iconic children's entertainer Rod Hull (who plummeted to his death while trying to adjust his television aerial), you see Fretwell is more than just a master of the melancholy. Hinting that he doesn't take himself as seriously as other singers of his ilk with such flourishes and naming one track 'William Shatner's Dog' only adds to his likeability.
Unwavering in its simplicity, and a little less introspective than previous efforts, this album will find its way under your skin. Earnest storytelling, sincerity and a sense of humour combine to make Man On The Roof one of those albums which may not garner awards, but will win the hearts of many listeners. --Kate Sharp
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