What is it about solo albums from members of well-known bands that mean that they get a whole lot less interest from the world as a whole than they would if the exact same songs were released under the band’s name? It’s baffling, more than a little infuriating and it happens way too often but hopefully this album will gain the recognition it deserves. As much as I appreciated Levellers’ last studio album, 2012’s “Static On The Airwaves”, “Moment”, the second solo album by Mark Chadwick, one of the major creative forces in the band, contains all of the wonderful songwriting elements that made me become a fan of Brighton’s legendary Levellers in the first place and is a lot easier to love. It contains ten thoroughly excellent songs performed with heart and warmth by Mark (vocals/guitar), Tom White (drums/backing vocals), Alex White (piano/organ/backing vocals), Graeme Ross (double bass/cello/backing vocals), Ben Paley (violin) and Rachel Simpson (trumpet/flugelhorn). One of the most notable facts about this album is that these tracks were captured live, shortly after Mark taught them to the players, after only a couple of takes, so the high level of musicianship and accomplished performances are a real testament to this band’s skill and talent. The songs, recorded and mixed over only seven days, sound wonderfully alive, heartfelt, warm and immediate; they’re so very easy to connect with.
The overall theme of “drink, life and love” (with a particular look at the effects on the latter two by the former) may suggest a dark therapy session in intensive music, but although Chadwick’s lyrics are characteristically rich, weaving short stories within the space of a few minutes, much of the music is exuberant, expressive and very enjoyable indeed. The folky, violin-driven “Waterfall” kicks the album off and, immediately, any reasonably knowledgeable listener would identify it as the Levellers. It’s a cracking starting point, gets existing fans on board straight away and the upbeat nature of the music provides a counter to the bleak lyrics which tell of the emotionally and physically destructive effects of alcohol; it’s powerful stuff. The slow-burning, mid-tempo “Red Sky” is about as beautiful a song about a soul in turmoil you could imagine and features some really rather lovely piano from Alex. The title track is a fine example of Chadwick’s ability to paint a scene in your mind, transporting us to a tiny, life changing moment in time across the Atlantic, with the musical interlude illustrated ably by some nice upright bass work from Graeme.
The brilliant “Bullet”, one of the most instantly likeable and singable songs on the album, rolls, tumbles and utterly woos the listener with the double whammy of both irresistible verse and catchy chorus. “Christian and Pam” is a near-heartbreaking story of an alcoholic couple who have wasted their lives and money on drinking. They are described so well, so vividly, that you know you have seen these people, on the street, on the railways stations; broken people with broken lives. Again, it’s very powerfully emotive and the accompanying music is superb. “Killing Time”, whilst very upbeat and listenable, is the closest thing there is to a merely ordinary track on “Moment” whereas “Daughter”, a tale of a daughter having to go into servitude (and more) at the “house on the hill” so that the family can eat and survive, culminating in the devastating punchline, is hard-hitting and magnificent. “Air” is a more mellow, almost jazzy piece which has some extremely nice piano and violin playing complementing each other, over a song filled with loss and regret. “Medicine” appears to be another wry ode to alcohol, but equally could be applied to a personal relationship too and final track “Last Night” is the utterly beautiful sound of Mark Chadwick writing and performing a song that would have been a Nick Drake classic.
Self-produced and skilfully engineered and mixed by Jake Rousham, Chadwick’s second solo album is simply a brilliant piece of work. It has absolutely everything going for it: strong songwriting, lyrical depth, a cast of very talented musicians and a distinctive, admirable artistic ethos with very little you could really criticise. What’s more, it’s just so easy to listen to and to enjoy. Whereas some albums you have to work hard to get into, “Moment” gets in your head almost immediately and the superb lyrics reveal themselves with each and every satisfying listen, so that you will find yourself loving and appreciating the album, together with all of the finer musical subtleties, even more than you did than the time before, every time you give it another play. If you are a Levellers fan, quite honestly you’d be doing yourself a massive disservice if you didn’t have this album in your collection because, quite frankly (and no disrespect to the band at all), “Moment” is arguably better than many of the band’s albums and can certainly stand proudly side-by-side with their best work. “Moment” deserves wide recognition, acclaim and plenty of homes who own a copy. If you don’t have yours yet, you know what to do.
“Moment” by Mark Chadwick is out now, available on physical and digital formats.
Andy Sweeney, 21st June, 2014.