House on Fire
Brian Wright has described his own sound as “somewhere between Woody Guthrie and the Velvet Underground”. While that's a great starting point for describing him, on this album at least the Guthrie influence is the more apparent. What his definition misses is the strong pop sensibility which permeates much of House On Fire. This combination makes the whole album easy on the ear, and most of it a joy to listen to.
Wright – born in Texas but currently living in Los Angeles – plays all the instruments himself. This in itself represents a significant departure, for he’s previously aimed for a live feel, recording each of his previous two albums in three days flat in the studio with his band the Waco Tragedies.
The album opens with two of the weaker songs, but things pick up with “Live Again”, a pretty break-up duet, and the album really hits its stride with “Accordion”. It's not easy to describe what makes this song a winner, but it draws the listener in like nothing that has come before, with a stop-start melody, minor sound effects and simple yet compelling lyrics.
The Woody Guthrie influence becomes clear on “Mesothelioma” (a surprisingly perky song about a rare form of cancer) and the bluesy “Rich Man's Blues". The only narrative song on the album is “Maria Sugarcane”, a cracking murder ballad about a man in love with his brother's girlfriend.
As for the rest of the album, “Pretty Little Pennies” is a beguiling little sing-along, much better than that description makes it sound. Wright has enlisted a splendid basso profundo backing singer for the lazy saunter that is “If You Stay”, and the album closer “Friend” echoes the sentiments of Carole King's “You've Got A Friend”.
Paradoxically on such an accessible album, Wright only come unstuck when he strives a little too hard for commercial appeal. This is most apparent on “The Good Doctor”, an upbeat poppy song that is a bit of an anomaly, and could almost belong on a different album.
But the best of this album is very good indeed, and songs such as “Accordion”, “Maria Sugarcane” and “Pretty Little Pennies” are each quite compelling (albeit in very different ways), and all deserving of attention.
UK release date: March 28