Soooo… (I am trying to indicate in writing the plumber’s / mechanic’s / “it doesn’t look good” suck of the teeth just before they tell you how much something is going to cost) quickly on to the follow-up to The Moshville Times highly-rated third album Medusa which we reviewed earlier this year. That’s the Yalla Yallas’ album, not the similarly-names Paradise Lost release, which was also damn good.
A Facebook live video pops up on my feed and there’s Rob Galloway, sipping mint tea and telling us that he is recording an album in a day, an acoustic version and that this was for the squat gigs that he played and not something he had done before. Sooo… (there’s that noise again) what sort of witchery is this? Surely this is every type of wrong that you could have for a release? An acoustic retrospective of tracks already released? Recorded in a day? I mean Rob can’t even actually sing, can he? Surely this simply can’t work?
Well, if there is one thing that I have learnt in the last couple of years it is not to take anything for granted and travel life with an open mind. What you think is going to happen or be, very rarely is and Stripped can be your reference point for this. Let’s recap:
- An acoustic album produced in a day is going to sound a bit ropey isn’t it? Well, Neil Young demonstrated to us earlier this year with the outstanding Hitchhikers that it can be done and that it can be something very special. Rob and his trip to Loom studios has also proved that an album’s mixing and recording help produce some fantastic music and records but at the end of the day the producer is only ever as good as the performance… and on Stripped you are going to be surprised. It has atmosphere, at times it’s sad and others defiant. The voice holds up and guitar playing is good.
- A retrospective – It’s just the same old songs rehashed, isn’t it? Well it can be, or sometimes – if you get it right – it can be the same songs reborn. Rob got it right here.
- Rob can’t sing for toffee. I think it is fair to say that Rob has probably always been known primarily for his live performances and songwriting skills rather than his gymnastic vocals but what has impressed me, especially in more recent times, is how well his vocals have come along and this release only further cements that impression. There will always be people who do not like Rob’s vocals and think they are not good enough but then if you have a distinctive voice this comes with the territory.
Now we have established that the boiler hasn’t broken / roof hasn’t blown off / this record has soul, what about the tracks themselves? Well for one day, Rob was a busy boy as it comes in at 19 tracks long and I have selected a few of the standout tracks below. It’s not necessarily a fair reflection of all the tracks as I have avoided the newer songs due to recently reviewing the Medusa album.
Shortly into the album there are three cracking songs on the trot and probably three of the best songs that Galloway has ever written. It is “Freedom and Liberty” which, for me, is the standout track on the whole album and if I was considering releasing a single, this would be it. It is basically a Billy Bragg style protest song and it stands up as well as anything Billy has done. The pace, delivery and message are totally spot on and I for one would like to hear more from Rob like this. Luckily the classic The Yalla Yallas tracks “Retaliation” follows, so that wish quickly comes true. Sometimes the trouble with political songs is that they can become quickly dated, but this hasn’t happened with ‘Retaliation” and sadly that’s to our detriment as a society. It is as valid today as when it was written a few years ago.
An element to the album that gives me a wry smile is the way Rob delivers these politically loaded songs. Yes, on one hand they are protest numbers but he has an earnestness to his delivery that could be mistaken for one of his more personal songs. Take “Murdoch Media” as a track in point. Fake news before fake news existed but delivered with a sadness and depth in a way unusual for this type of song.
Do not be mistaken into thinking that this is a political album though. Galloway has always mixed in the personal with the political and on tracks like “21 Days” we join him in an agonizing wait until he can see his love again. “What You Mean to Me” will break your heart whilst the final track “Bitter End”, one of the inclusions from Galloway’s solo album of a couple of years ago, completes the album, and leaves you wanting more despite this being a break-up song.
Overall I have to say this album has impressed me and as a retrospective it feels more like the soundcheck with the main gig yet to come. Galloway may not have realised it when he conceived Stripped but it does very much feel like the end of a chapter, as if he is closing the cover on a well-thumbed book but is incredibly excited to be starting the next one.
Stripped is out now