Where Hot Dub Bikini Party intuited sizzling summers and lively alfresco partying [reviewed 18th March, 2011], this latest release Kaya Street from Harry Birch – driving force of that former reggae-infused band – suggests lounging in warm summer hammocks to absorb and enjoy in peaceful repose, not that the lyrical preoccupations confine themselves to fretless narratives, as here lost love and missed opportunity provides an edge just like that hammock’s occasional precarious swing.
It’s a natural inclination to listen for influence and/or echo in music that captures your attention, and by way of providing some overall complimentary context I do hear Devendra Banhart at times in the sweet simplicity of some songs, the tone of a Paolo Nutini in Harry’s fine vocal – a welcome focus on this album’s 13 tracks – and the noticeable move from reggae rhythms to generic African guitar riffs, these often cascading delightfully around the melodies.
Opener This City immediately features those African guitar cascades and the pleasing harmonies heard on many songs. Second How Much Longer? puts the vocal to the centre and highlights the gentle falsetto that Harry employs throughout the album. Fourth Morning is a pretty song full of folk credentials that slowly rises to an emotional height and is then eased out on violin strains and guitar, perhaps a little long in its journey. And when I say ‘pretty’ I do mean to stress its sweet attraction.
Fifth You Should Have Been Mine opens with brash saxophone to poke us out of the pretty lull of the former, the vocal again rising to falsetto peaks to perhaps empathise with the heightened emotions of the title’s lament. Sixth He’s Not The One has us pondering in the comforting caress of our aural hammock if there is real or imagined loss in the triplet of lovelorn storytelling completed by seventh The Fool. Eighth Sway provides more saxophone from R. Beavis [I would have liked Christian names – even Harry is H. Birch] and this dances enticingly in the background amongst the harmonies that open the song as well as Harry’s strong vocal that follows. This is a genuine grower. Listen here: http://kayastreet.bandcamp.com/track/sway
Ninth The Border is my favourite. It has catchy guitar work and an equally catchy but simple melody, and is predominantly acoustic guitar and solo vocal that I imagine is great to hear live. J. Mansfield provides pleasing violin strains, presumably multi-tracked, to close the song. Tenth Never Enough opens with a continuation of the violins as well as the by now signature vocal falsetto breaks.
Eleventh Low returns us to a Bikini reprise with its opening reggae sax riff which shifts to Booker T and then back to reggae roots, supported with echoing guitar. On a grey Jubilee day with a nation entertained by a flotilla of fleeting royal patriotism, I was better entertained by the empathising - but hopefully equally fleeting in respect of the weather – penultimate track Summer’s Over. The album ends on Brother, an almost secret track that fades in from an apparent distance and seems to stay there in a background, Harry’s fragile falsetto suggesting something from afar, and it is this gentle breath of a song and singing that in many ways characterises the whole album, though I trust I have also reflected its other confidence, especially in the African rhythms [or as tagged at http://kayastreet.bandcamp.com/ - afro pop alternative soul folk indie raggae soul Exeter ] of Harry Birch’s fine guitar playing and songwriting as well as distinctive singing.