Sweet Baboo - Hello Wave

Bill Cummings 13/08/2009

Rating: 4/5

North Wallian born, (Cardiff based) musician Sweet Baboo a.k.a Stephen Black has been busier than Peter Mandleson trying to run every department of the government while his mates are off on their summer holidays; by the end of this year he will have appeared on four records. Euros Childs 'Son of Euro Child', Cate le Bon 'Me Oh My', Spencer McGarry Season 'Episode 1', as well as this his second solo album 'Hello Wave'. Following the success of his wonderful mini album 'The Mighty Baboo' last year, that effortlessly melded heartbroken confessional alt country, and subtle, whimsical travelling tunes, tales of love and loss. They even managed to steer away far from the twee and cutesy, with a liberal coating of his inimitable, wry black humour, that separated this Baboo from the pack. At the beginning of this year Stephen, along with producer Charlie Francis (REM, The High Llamas) and some local musicians set about recording his second set of songs, recorded the old fashioned way - live. The ten songs on 'Hello wave' were mixed in just over five days in January, and as Stephen puts it 'for bands who agonise for 18 months over their records, something has gone wrong, music is not supposed to be a chore. The five days I spent with the band in the studio were relaxed, good humoured and, most of all, fun, and I hope this comes across in the music.' The good news is that it does - Hello Wave is full of humanity, charm and warmth, its stripped back instrumentation utilising 6 and 12 string guitars, to double bass, saw, drums, pedal steel and organ, along with vocal harmonies.

Boundless opener 'If I'm still in love when I get back home from travelling (America)' trots and skips into view over yonder hills, an upbeat bittersweet, soundtrack to a horse ride (a scene depicted in both the song's video and the center of the albums inlay), whilst the western theme continues on 'In the night sky'. Its jaunty barn dance rhythm is replete with foot stomping guitars and hums, lyrically it deftly balances the light and shade of love. Its deconstructed gin-soaked, god-fearing country is redolent of early Johnny Cash ('the reason I sing to him is because my mind is on other things/Such as this pretty girl who makes me drink and wild a whole lot more').

While the album's highlight 'Hello Bullfrog, Hello Wave' is a quivering, pared back effort of real quality. It's delicate acoustic instrumentation and subtle backing vocals, rise and fall like waves, shrugging and embracing, it's briefly reminiscent of the best of Jeff Tweedy and Wilco. Poignantly continues the albums theme of love and loss. One key line in particular rises gorgeously as a glowing epiphany for escape 'I jumped in the river to grab my first wave of the day/it takes me away from here'.

There are surrealist streaks here too, particularly in 'The Bumblebee song' - the only song in existence about moving to the country dressed as a bumblebee, accompanied by the acoustic guitar picking out a route for this affecting ode to travel. More low key is 'Little Bernadette' whose plucked balladry is woven with intricate observations that draws a characterisation of a demon pet cat, peaking on a quivering mellatron-sprinkled chorus of 'oooohs' that seem to emanate from the mouth of the reaper. The Hammond organ that so dominated The Mighty Baboo appears again on 'Let's go to town', slipping from low key battling demons to hopping onto a whirring carnival outro that spins to town for fun. While 'Darlin' if you think my songs are fun', a deceptive, slice of spirralling low key balladry, cloaks Stephen's trademark black humour its bittersweet couplets and will have you sniggering at their irony.('I'll kill a man his wife in her prime/As long as I get me a place in heaven')

If Stephen's first album had heartbreak as its core subject matter, while his second long player 'Hello Wave' still has its moments of loss, but throbbing through its veins is a transformational theme, like Stephen has been face down in the doldrums but now can see the light at the end of the tunnel thus themes of: love, spirituality and exploration seap through the record's songs, as he puts it: Lyrically, I still sing about love, loss and girls but as I've grown older the imagery is less 'shooting people in the face thus 'Hello Wave' is a joyous heartfelt record, full of perfectly pitched instrumentation, toe tapping tunes and sighing balladry garnished with his wonderful melting, vocals, that drip with hope, tragedy and pathos, 'Hello Wave' should finally see his wonderful brand of alt country music wider acclaim. And in the words of Stephen? 'I hope like all good country music, people find optimism and hope in sadness.'

Release date: 03/08/2009