Feeling the Blues
It is genuinely never too late for some, so 48 years after its initial release to quick obscurity, Scott Fagan’s debut album gets re-released to a market-place keen on nostalgia [and with the quality of retro-music it is a massive market: though perhaps the singer-songwriter is less well represented as rock and prog in the reinvention business]. Whether this is homage to the significance of that artist in their time, or the commercialism of this market is probably not that difficult to work out.
Fagan’s music on South Atlantic Blues – a misnomer as a title – is generic enough for its time of 1968, and the most distinctive feature [possibly in the remastering] is the foregrounding of his voice, a cross perhaps of Bowie and Drake, the tremolo quite pronounced at times. There aren’t really any blues tracks here, and opener In My Head is the most Bowie-esque, both in voice [here also rising to emotive bursts] and the psyche-pop with light orchestration of its delightful melody – the horn blasts a hint of the soul that is also on the album, and at its best.
Second Nickels and Dimes is similar in its late 60s sound with harpsicord rhythms and more occasional oboe underscoring with violins, the horns here not so much soul but providing a jazzy core: it is a rich production suggesting considerable support from Atco [Warner] at the time. It is third Crying that introduces Fagan’s soulful songwriting, this very much in the Al Green production style, Fagan’s vocal full and again emotive. A lovely track.
Fourth The Carnival is Ended evokes the beginning of Donovan’s Jennifer Juniper, and it is as such a period piece. The title track follows, fading in, and its attachment to the ‘blues’ is entirely in the feeling rather than genre, a song of yearning it seems, and no doubt based on his having been brought up in the idyll of the island of St Thomas in the Caribbean in a classic ‘60s70s’ ambience, only to have this shattered by his mother’s sudden heavy drinking after a relationship break-up [as outlined on Fagan’s own website]. Nothing But Love is an upbeat, horn-driven soul song, Tenement Hall getting as near to a blues as any, and In Your Hands is the third song to mention Christianity so there seems to be a message here.
Penultimate Crystal Ball is light rock ‘n’ roll, and closer Madame-Moiselle is a return to the soul ballad with horns and strings formula, the French another requisite of the time, it seems, and of course because of that, as it should be.