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The Hanging Stars
Songs For Somewhere Else Julian Marszalek , February 7th, 2018 13:32

Country Americana from north London, cosmic and authentic

When it comes to roots music, few genres find themselves in thrall to macho mythology in quite the same way that the country-Americana axis does. To a certain degree, you can blame the backstory surrounding Bon Iver’s For Emma, Forever Ago a decade ago for getting chaps of a certain age and disposition all riled up with stories of heartache, catharsis and hunting - all coming together against the backdrop of an isolated cabin in the wilds of Wisconsin. Credit then to The Hanging Stars, whose nods to the cosmic Americana of the early 70s are rooted in the commonplace reality of urban living and a desire to shake off the humdrum.

The idea of a London-based outfit looking way out west for inspiration may raise a few cynical eyebrows, but The Hanging Stars’ love and understanding of the form is informed and enriched by their own personality and creates a convincing whole.

Crucially, The Hanging Stars have made significant steps forward since their fine 2015 debut, Over The Silvery Lake. As evidenced by the opening bars of ‘On A Sweet Summer’s Day’, there’s a looseness about the playing that suggests a band at ease not just with their own material but also the area that it occupies. Coming from the hips rather than the head, this isn’t self-conscious music but something more instinctive and nuanced.

Indeed, a shimmering lysergic haze tempers the music contained here - the periphery of vision is ever so slightly blurred. Inducing a sense of warmth and comfort, the languid delivery of ‘Honeywater’ is a case in point. Its blend of ringing chords and mournful pedal steel is seamless, and echoes the gorgeous harmonies of singer-guitarist Richard Olson and guest vocalist Miranda Lee Richards on the affecting ‘How I Got This Way’. Elsewhere, the bucolic instrumental ‘Djupsjön’ offers sharp relief from the dank and miserable grip of winter with playing that captures the yearning for the seasons to change, a theme that fuels ‘For You (My Blue Eyed Son)’.

There are caveats. ‘Too Many Wired Hours’ is at sharps odds with the pace of the album and feels a little forced and self-conscious. ‘Mean Old Man’ makes too much of a diversion from its spaghetti western intro to truly convince.

But the album’s few shortcomings are far outweighed by the lush sound and sensitive playing that bring to life the romantic yearnings at its heart. These are stars that shine as much as they hang.

The album launch is at London’s Victoria Dalston on 22 February - tickets here.