About The Light by Steve Mason

Release date: January 18, 2019
Label: Domino

An arrival of new music from Steve Mason these days is usually to be met with indifference from the majority of the record-buying (streaming?) public, yet in a history of missed tricks; they are the ones who are losing out on one of our finest songwriters. Casting an engaging path from the early days of The Beta Band, and through his solo work as King Biscuit Time, Black Affair and now simply under his own name, he has created a body of work which stretches from the joyously ecstatic to the introspective pathos of his more inner searching songs.

About The Light carries on this seam of great work once again, and from the buoyant horn laden opening of ‘America Is Your Boyfriend’ you can recognise a freewheeling confidence that made those early Beta Band EP’s such an essential  listen. He may have discarded the more experimental edges, but has replaced it with a song-writing quality which is pretty much unmatched by his peers at times.

Mason is on more upbeat mode for much of this album, with the aforementioned opener more than matched by ‘No Clue’ two songs along. Where these songs offer Mason a chance to cut loose and have fun musically, it is in the more introspective fare that we find the human depths. A song such as ‘Rocket’ is filled with such emotion that it positively prods at your own soul, and lyrically Mason may very well be at the top of his game. The title track is another exercise in drawing you in (to the light?) as it builds into a semi-explosive chorus matched by an Americana fuelled piano. One almost expects the Muscle Shoals rhythm section to come weighing in at any point.

Whilst he may be having fun musically, it all boils down to the quality of song-writing and nowhere is this clearer than on ‘Fox on the Rooftop’. A song which starts off much like an earlier Beta Band song with its intriguing little shuffle, it soon becomes an introspective soul-searching exercise, possibly influenced by past bouts of depression. A sublime sax breaks the introspection to bring in some light in what is a highlight of a rather excellent album.

The horns return for ‘Stars Around My Heart’ which could have come from an Aztec Camera song, circa 1986, and stick around for the lively ‘Spanish Brigade’. On ‘Don’t Know Where’ he seems to take on John Grant in the pathos stakes in a gloriously maudlin moment which returns calm after the giddiness of ‘Spanish Brigade’. It’s the calm before the storm though, as the rhythm claps of ‘Walking Away From Love’ usher in a nervous, tetchy pop song which features one of those glorious choruses Mason likes to throw in on a whim. Even better is the excellent ‘The End’ which is a triumphant finish full of blistering horns and cascading crescendos.

About The Light is a varied listen, and may actually be the most open and accessible that Mason has been for a long time, if ever. This variety provides a playful impact and results in an album where you keep finding extra little treats. The horns are the start of the album, and offer a reviving feature after some of the more introspective meanderings. It’s a question of balance though, and it is this that makes the album such a joy. What a wonderful way to start the year.

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