Sweet Baboo - I'm A Dancer/Songs About Sleepin'

Owain Paciuszko 06/09/2010

Rating: 4/5

The eagle eyed and earred will undoubtedly know Stephen Black from a myriad of acts that blossomed in the hills and valleys of Wales. He's appeared on record and on stage with fellow Welsh acts including Euros Childs, Cate Le Bon and Spencer McGarry Season among others. Sweet Baboo is Black's own alter-ego, and this record is his third full length LP.

Following on from last year's absolutely brilliant Hello Wave this finds Baboo drawing restraint in amongst his playful lyricism and occasionally arch instrumentation (co-producer Rob Jones of Voluntary Butler Scheme perhaps somewhat responsible there). Lead track I'm A Dancer is wistfully romantic and anthemic, a cautious little pop tune with a timid chorus mixing self-deprecating arrogance with neurotic-confidence. It's these dry witted contradictions that make his songs so appealing, ably reflecting the mental loop-the-loops of awkward youngsters fidgeting to grow up and fall in love with honesty, sentiment and a sense of humour.

Y'r Lungs is tender alt-country, guitar picked nimbly and fret-board squeaking delightfully, Black's lyrics tumbling stream-of-consciousness style in a jumble sale of ideas. It's bittersweet nonsense somewhere between Aidan Smith and Donovan that disappears into a flurry of acoustic guitar and radio static. Compared to some of his balladry on his sophomore record it's a tad sleight, but Baboo a little off-form is usually vastly superior to most. Similarly To The Sea is a - dare I say it - Mumford & Sons-esque folk ramble, that trundles along nicely with Black's voice lamenting 'I wish my head was full of sand, then I'd be a happy man...' between swathes of languid, creaking guitar. It's richly arranged and full of lazy wonder and cheeky regret, but doesn't quite pluck the emotions as well as something like the strangely affecting Tim's Song from Hello Wave.

Folk-pop number Wish I Was Made Out Of Steel begins with squiggly organs entwined with guitars before Baboo's vocal arrives, accompanied by some peculiar snatches of distant hollering. Side one is drawn to a close with a second version of I'm A Dancer that plays the despondent card, Black's voice a little broken and bruised emphasising the lyrics in a neat contrast to the swagger of the first version.

Side two begins on a high-tempo-note, Black singing about smooshing two minds together in the quirky country-stomp of Who Would Have Thought. It's a clattering romp with gleefully plucked bass supplying the foot-moving heartbeat of the track whilst you can hear the smile on Black's face through the delivery. Three Thumbs recalls the squawking background vocals of earlier, but under a tune that sounds like Bill Callahan dizzy with drink over an ever-increasing tempo, indeed Black can be heard giggling between lyrics.

The crooned sentiments of Baby Let Me Let You Sleep is a lullabye to a loved one, with Black conveying the empowerment of falling for someone with beautifully simplstic charm; 'I knew the day that we met that I could now rule the world.' It's a laidback, stripped bare tune that trickles out gently over its seven minute run-time, carefully drip-feeding a few embelishments here and there before taking a left-turn into an aptly dream-like choir chanting 'Sleep' over a blanket of diverse instrumentation. Penultimate track Two Moles is kind of Baboo-by-numbers, and sits a bit awkwardly at this point on the record, feeling like a step backwards.

Side two ends with If I Died Would You Remember That You Loved Me, the wordy title recalling earlier Baboo recordings, and Black name-checking the likes of Daniel Johnston (Black played as part of Johnston's band on tour in 2008) in wittily self-deprecating fashion and keeping the bells and whistles at bay, the guitar playing is with the lazy flick of a depressed hand and the accompanying woodwind is sweet and sad bringing tears to the eyes as Black weakly ponders; 'I wanted to spend my life with you, and now I don't know what to do.' It's a heart-breaking close to a record that feels, as the split title may suggest, like two smaller efforts brought together. If treated as seperate eps the occasional stumbles on either side don't seem so unwieldly, but as part of a larger work they tug on the reins and it the album, as a whole, lacks the life of Black's last.

Saying that, this is a very fine album from an artist you should undoubtedly check out, especially live, Black's pithy banter is wonderful and adds to the personality and confessional of his music. This album is an interesting next step on his journey of a career that will hopefully continue long into the future.