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You might not be familiar with the name but Ted Barnes was the co-writer and guitarist on the first three Beth Orton albums. Described by his label as a national treasure, Barnes has come up with a sound somewhere in-between Jon Brion (Kanye West/Aimee Mann/Fiona Apple producer) and an instrumental Nick Drake. However, these tracks are never as whimsical as Brion or as mournful as Drake, instead we have a collection of charming and beautifully produced eclectic folk music. In some ways this is the sort of album the scene has been missing - most albums of this kind are affiliated with some film or another, and have to be littered with the obligatory S Club 7 track or whatever to please the production companies; 'Underbelly' is however just great music from start to finish. Uncluttered and lovingly crafted, this is an album that stands out of time - something that I could imagine coming back to in 5 years and enjoying just as much as I do now. Highly recommended.
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Still, this is a shallow observation and pretty irrelevant when one gets to hear the music contained within UNDERBELLY. It is intensely intimate and beautifully sad. It is 100% instrumental and very subtly executed. The core ingredients are piano, acoustic guitar, cello, violin and occasional bursts of brass. Percussion also enters the fray on a couple of the more upbeat numbers.
It takes a few listens for the music to fully seep in to the listener's consciousness. Once it has, what concurs is that UNDERBELLY sounds like the soundtrack to a very emotionally draining movie. Beautiful chord sequences slowly unfold with strings rising and falling and gently plucked guitars weeping out minor chords. Delicate xylophone motifs come and go, to give some of the tunes more fragility. What really gives this music the edge is the almost constant presence of a mournful, tremoring cello. It really does give the pieces extra weight, and it's almost making me want to learn the instrument!
Anyhow, in conclusion, this is a great album. Perfect listening for the early hours. Preferably by candlelight. Crucially, it finishes with an absolutely sublime tune, "Bosonova Baby" which has a melody that is filled with promise and hope. After an album of such melancholy moments, the listener will finish with a smile upon their face.
4.5 stars. RECOMMENDED.
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