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REVIEW - This Much Talent - 'Belgian Whistles' (EP)

In the 'Grand National' that is the local music scene, it's good to see that some runners have navigated the course, cleared the last fence and are heading for 'the elbow' as strong as ever (even if, as we all do, have to unseat some riders along the way!). Me, I pulled up at 'Becher's Brook' second time round, but Shane Kirk seems to have been a fixture on the Ipswich music scene for as long as I can remember and can currently be seen mixing up folk and Americana with Helen And The Neighbourhood Dogs, backing Tony James Shevlin (another estimable songwriter) as a 'Chancer' and occasionally playing 'feel-good' sets of covers in Picturehouse at 'The Pickerel' in Stowmarket (I'm not sure they play anywhere else!).

Despite all this current activity, his new release under the 'This Much Talent' alias - a long overdue follow-up to an album released in the early 2000s - reflects back to past combos, if not necessarily in sound (the 'REM flecked' World Service, the expansive power-pop of As Is, the tight, literate gods kitchen), then certainly in feel and ambience. The three songs featured on 'Belgian Whistles' features friends and musicians both from his past and his present that helps to illuminate Shane's way of putting a tune together with melancholic, sometimes caustic, but always clever wordplay.

During the 90s, opener 'Stop That For A Start' was a jangly-indie pop tune with a (sometimes) explosive middle eight - here though it is re-imagined as a country number with weeping pedal steel, choice vocal harmonies and a reflective tone. Played once again by the gods kitchen crew (as back in the 90s), it features Steve Constable on those vocals and guitar, Richard Hammond on top-notch bass (as always) and it is exceptionally good to hear Stephen Dean on drums. 'The Merchant Of Venus' is a recent composition, a loping, rolling journey through loves and lives with jaunty flute provided by Geoffrey Kelly from Spirit Of The West and counterpoint vocals from Helen Mulley. More flute appears on third and final song - the elegiac 'Showtime' with the sound of brass peeping through in a similar way to those old Roy Harper and Richard Thompson records. As Shane explains in his review notes, it's a song with its roots from way back, which has been supremely updated to be the centrepiece of the collection.

'Belgian Whistles' is an EP with a snapshot (a 'reference point' if you will) of a singer-songwriter taking stock of a musical past and revisiting songs, themes and experiences, bringing them up-to-date with the benefit of hindsight and further tales of a life lived. A large cast of supporting musicians in a range of differing recording situations has been expertly pulled together by Ian Crow at Amblin Man Studios to produce a great sounding record that in its fine songwriting, performances and literacy bears repeated listens, and shows that good songs will always shine through, whether performed by callow youth or wizened experience. From Aintree to Kentucky (enough with the horse-racing metaphors!), 'Belgian Whistles' deserves to be heard.


'Belgian Whistles' is available on all the major digital platforms and as a CD from Shane at www.thismuchtalent.bandcamp.com


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