We’ve seen all the glowing comparisons; Cohen, Dylan, Cash, Prine and Young, and they are well placed but being all North American, their take on desolation and societal disintegration is bound to be different from that of a man from the English Northlands.
Bower´s recently released second album doesn’t hesitate to throw us headlong into the pit of alcoholism, loneliness and quiet desperation that’s the new norm in England’s rust belt. Bowers feels the pain and articulates it in finely honed lyrical details atop a piece of music that’s a strange striped down Americana which nevertheless is the perfect framework for these songs.
A minimalist rhythm guitar leads us on a trek through broken hearts and shattered dreams, the fine points filed in by electric guitar, pedal steel or Dobro, the grand design etched by Bower’s sonorous and deep baritone. The voice of doom never sounded so arresting. All slowly paced, the material invokes an endless trudge through tedium and hopelessness, leavened with some dashes of minor chording to keep a sense of unease shadowing the songs’ characters.
With titles like "A Town With No Cheer" and "You Stole My Joy" you know there will be no backing away from brutal truths. The way they’re delivered is what makes for songs that hang around your mind from the first hearing. If you believe happiness is a sad song, there is a whole industrial heartland of bittersweetness here for you to enjoy. Case in point is "Winner", which feels akin to Springsteen´s small-town frustration but stripped of any traces of hope and deepening the pain and frustration.
All the songs were written by Kete who hails from Birkenhead, however Paper Ships is a Canadian thing. Recorded at The Hangar Studio in Toronto, it was produced by Michael Timmins of the Cowboy Junkies, who also picks up some of the electric guitar. Peter Timmins covers the drums, Bass is by Josh Finlayson (Skydiggers), Electric Guitar from Tom Juhas (Slutty Slutty Bang Bang Band), Aron Goldstein on Pedal Steel and Michael Johnston on Keys.
Paper Ships is Kete's first album in 9 years, since his debut Road from 2010 and in the time between, Bowers accumulated the type of life experiences that led to songs like “Ghosts” and “Northern Town.”
"I was born in Birkenhead just across the river Mersey from Liverpool. A year or so before I was due to leave school it became clear that there would be few or no jobs or apprenticeships available. Our school careers lessons were about how to fill in a form and sign on the dole. Those were really hard times”
“Some things I remember, Lord I wish I could forget” he sings with unrestrained bitterness on “Northside” and throughout the album, there is precious little to even be nostalgic about. Bowers isn’t ever about missing anything of times gone by and always about laying bare their sad consequences. Comes a time though, when sadness morphs into righteous anger and these songs may just have a different life as rallying cries in hard times to come.
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