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Foy's Second Coming
on 25 August 2013
A year ago, Foy Vance was a fairly obscure singer-songwriter who hadn't released anything for five long years. His debut EP 'Watermelon Oranges' came out in 2005 and earned him some famous fans such as Pete Townsend. It had a strong American roots sound, with loads of throat tearing vocal lines and clever songwriting twists.
Then followed his debut album 'Hope' in 2007. This was an expansive work, covering 16 tracks. Recorded in a cottage in Ireland, it was so atmospheric that you could almost tell what furniture was in the room from the ambience on the recording. It was more stripped down than the debut EP, and leaned more heavily on blues and balladry. Spirituality loomed large over the record, as well as themes of love found.
And then the great silence as Foy plugged away, slowly gaining a groundswell of support as he took on support slots on tours with David Gray, Michael Kiwinuka and Bonnie Rait.
In 2012 he finally released new material in the shape of the Melrose EP. This sounded hardly anything like previous work as producer David Arnold (yes, he of film-score fame) brought out a far softer tone from Foy's versatile voice.
But 2012 would be a year that would prove so full of real-life trauma, with the end of his marriage, that it would be fertile soil to grow many new songs in. In-fact, 'Joy of Nothing' is Foy's document of the year.
So - yes - it's a break-up record. You wouldn't necessarily tell from the opening optimistic sounds of 'Closed Hands Full of Friends', with it's confident, major/minor chord progressions. It's a widescreen sound, much more 'in the room' than 'Melrose', but a bigger room than 'Hope'. The title track follows, and it's a slow burning ode to the simple life. It's lazy in it's tempo, but full of pathos and the melody line is extremely catchy. Then the heart-breakers begin in earnest with 'At Least My Heart Was Open', a song which suddenly surges with vitriol after accusations are pointed, presumably at his former wife. When the drums kick in halfway through the song, with a steady beat to match Foy's guitar picking, the magic of the record truly envelops you. It's a defining moment in the album and I think it's then that you understand that 'Joy of Nothing' is a listening journey. Bonnie Rait compliments Foy's lead vocal with fine, but subtle harmonies on 'You and I', it has a slight country feel, but nothing to put non-country-music folk like me off. 'Feel for Me' is a classic soulful ballad. It's a highlight of the album for me. Such restraint is shown by the musicians and it doesn't outstay it's welcome. Surely this song demonstrates why Foy has that secret, special quality in songwriting that can make a brand new song sound like a 50 year old standard.
The pace quickens with 'Janey', a song that Van Morrison could've had on 'His Band and Street Choir' or 'St Dominic's Preview', and I'd say it's on this song that a link is drawn between Foy's debut EP and the Foy of today. 'Paper Prince' is next, with a mid-tempo, Beatles-eque chord progression. It must be said that the string arrangements by Michael Keeney, who also produced the album are lush, and very very complimentary to the songs. 'It Was Good' is track 8, and has something about it, with it's tickled snare drum and hushed vocal, that reminds me of 'Enlightenment' era Van Morrison. 'Regarding Your Lover' is definitely another break-up song that arrests you and makes you hurt for what Foy has been through. It's a beautiful song, and one that many a rejected partner in a failed relationship will find strange comfort in.
Then comes the moment many of Foy's fans will have waited a long time for. If anyone has seen Foy live over the last couple of years, they will have had this song branded into their memory. 'Guiding Light' is a song that people wait years to find. With a celtic melodic foundation, and a soulful, yearning tune, the album closer is as near to perfect as songs can get this side of heaven. When performing this live, Foy teaches the chorus to the audience who then sing it over and over with him until he leaves the stage, leaving a room full of people singing it. Often times, people won't stop for many minutes, even singing it out of the door and on to the street. You can't describe it, you have to hear it. With the addition of Ed Sheeran, who Foy has toured the UK and US with, taking a verse, this is possibly going to be a radio hit in the coming months -at least it should be!
So, there it is. I have given it a 4/5 here, but really it's a 4.5/5. The only thing that lets it down as an album in my opinion is the lack of one more song that captures the raw power of Foy playing live. 'Like An Animal' is a live favourite with his fans, which I think would've done the job perfectly. Also, another more upbeat, positive-vibe song like 'I Got Love' (another written in time for this record) would've delivered a stone-cold masterpiece, but apparently, 'they didn't fit the flow of the album'.
This is a great album. Much more concise, lush sounding and well honed than 'Hope'. Not as bitter as some break-up albums can be (see Jagged Little Pill, Grace and Danger and Blood on the Tracks). Foy has a compassion towards his Ex, and a positivity about the future that is hard to shake, although the sadness found on some of these songs is profound.
Well done Foy and your team.