Ian McNabb ‘Little Episodes’ – album review

Ian McNabb ‘Little Episodes’ (Fairfield)
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Ian McNabb returns with a stripped-back solo album of intimate, wry songs which will delight long-term lovers of his work with a slight change in direction sprinkled with trademark touches.

Little Episodes is the ninth studio album from Ian McNabb, in almost 20 years. There are very few artists in the UK who work as hard as McNabb, in terms of recording, or indeed performing. So, why is he so woefully undervalued?

Aside from a handful of the most switched-on radio presenters (Long, Kershaw, Radcliffe, Maconie et al) the media  at large don’t seem to have discovered his music. Although to his sizeable fan following, this seems to be part of the charm.

Taking McNabb’s powerful back catalogue into consideration, this album is virtually naked. That is to say, it is a man, his songs, a guitar and very little else. Altogether, it’s a beautifully simple sound, enhanced here and there with a delicate backing vocal, some piano or well-placed percussion. It is no way reminiscent of McNabb’s powerful rock and pop albums, although according to his sleeve notes, it is among his favourite.

The album was largely written and recorded in a remarkably short space of time in late 2011. As McNabb says himself of this album, “The muse was with me”, and despite the sensitivity and delicacy of the songs and their subjects, there is certainly a tangible urgency within them. It feels as though McNabb was desperate to get this music out of his brain, and into the ether; to share these magical ideas as quickly as possible.

Despite the immediacy, the craftsmanship and quality is all there, and McNabb’s trademark open-throated Scott Walker-esque vocal is in evidence throughout, particularly in opening track ”˜Ancient Energy’, as well as political poke at the elite, ”˜High On A Hill’.

However, there is some contrast in the breathier delivery of the more sensitive and heartfelt lyrics in ”˜Tiny Arrows’, coupled with a wonderful Mediterranean guitar sound. Surprises like this can always be expected from a clever and charismatic performer such as McNabb.

As with all McNabb’s albums, both as a solo artist and as front man of Icicle Works, every song resonates with real life, and it’s possible to relate to almost any of the intelligently written lyrics. However, he has a gift of writing words that create pictures. Each of these songs can remove you from a few moments of reality, into the story he has woven in melody.

If I must make a criticism, then I would say this is not the album to discover Ian McNabb’s music through. I can name two or three others that I would give to you first, but then I would hand this one to you with a sage nod, and say, “But you know what? He can also do THIS…”, and once you’ve heard it, you’ll know exactly what I mean.

See Ian McNabb live in July (more dates at www.ianmcnabb.com):

5th July ”“ The Hub, Darlington
7th July ”“ St Pauls’, Brentford
12th July ”“ New Roscoe , Leeds
15th July ”“ Greystones, Sheffield

All words by Clair Chapman. You can read more from Clair on Louder Than War here.


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