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article imageReview: New release from former Icicle Works frontman Ian McNabb

By Louise Auty     Feb 23, 2012 in Entertainment
In the years since the Icicle Works split, former frontman Ian McNabb has continued to release top quality solo work and his latest CD adds to that consistency.
Little Episodes, the 10th album released on McNabb's own Fairfield Records label, is a 12-track delight and sees a return to the beautiful stripped down work of some of the Liverpool singer-songwriter's earlier work.
In an interview with BBC Radio 2 DJ Stuart Marconie, McNabb spoke about the album and the UK tour which is accompanying the release.
One of the most commercially underrated musicians in Britain, McNabb consistently pens songs which speak to the heart and mind and Little Episodes continues that trend from the opening bars of Ancient Energy to the closing refrain of the second version of the CD's title track.
"Ancient Energy" has a ridiculously catchy chorus and it grabs you from the first verse, a harsh examination of modern society it's driven by a soft percussion from Ciaron Bell and also features Danielle Perkins on back up vocals.
"Only Children" is a beautifully simple song, McNabb's vocals and guitar are layered with Perkins' on the chorus to create a wall of sound and it provides a great lead in to one of McNabb's trademark songs "High On A Hill", which could be about any one of a number of people who seem to be completely oblivious to what's going on around them, containing the great line "you don't care what goes on, you care only for one." Personally I'd like to think it's directed at the UK's current Prime Minister and his cohorts in the House of Commons.
McNabb's always had a real talent for writing songs which not only provide great lyrics to sing along to, but which carry a deep emotional connection even though they may appear on the surface to be quite simplistic. "He Wrote Himself A Letter" is a stunning example, focusing on the experiences of a lost soul who is finding it difficult to connect with the world. Pete Marshall adds some drums on this track to give it a punch.
"Abigail Rain" actually reminds me of the late great Scottish singer songwriter Jackie Leven. It has a vibe to it which wouldn't have been out of place on his Forbidden Songs from the Dying West album. The use of a distortion pedal on the electric guitar moves the sound away from the stripped bare acoustic version and gives it a haunting melody.
"Tiny Arrows", in contrast, evokes the feeling of a hot Spanish hacienda and a night of passion where, perhaps, the protagonist comes out with a broken heart - "don't shoot tiny arrows, please don't put them in me".
There are two versions of the title track "Little Episodes", the first one comes half way through the album and it's McNabb at his finest. It's the track which reminds me most of the work on his earlier A Party Political Broadcast on Behalf of the Emotional Party album, released in 2004 and it provides a great contrast to the shortest and simplest track, "Irresistable Ruins", which contains just four lines and a harmonica.
"A Heart That You Can Borrow" would be the single if one was to be released in my opinion. It has a Mamas and Papas "California Dreaming" vocal sound to the chorus, driven by some quite angsty lyrics reminding the listener that they'll have to pay for any untruths told to a loved one. There's added weight to the vocals provided by Mark Lacey on the chorus and McNabb's use of a guitjo gives it the quirky sound.
"To Love And To Let Go" has the fullest band sound, with percussion and piano from Ciaron Bell, drums from James Campbell and Perkins' backing vocals, but it's still a really clean track on which McNabb's vocals are the most important part, soaring proudly in the chorus.
"King of Hearts" is, at the moment, my favourite track on the album. A song about the contradiction in character traits of the King, driven by powerful percussion from Mark Brocklesby, to which you can't help tapping your feet and singing along.
The album finishes, perfectly in my opinion, with a semi-acoustic return to the title track "Little Episodes". Bared of anything but McNabb's vocal and Ciaron Bell on piano, its simplistic sound is really effective in directing the message contained within the lyrics.
One of Liverpool s finest singer songwriters Ian McNabb
One of Liverpool's finest singer songwriters Ian McNabb
Ian McNabb
Since his days with the Icicle Works, McNabb has cultivated a reputation among aficionados of quality lyrics for being able to portray a range of emotions and this resulted in a Mercury Prize nomination in 1994 for his solo release Head Like A Rock. During that time, he's also managed to work with artists including Ringo Starr, Crazy Horse, Mike Scott (The Waterboys) and Danny Thompson of folk legends Pentangle.
The songs on the new album were written over a day and a half period in late November 2011. Ian said: "I don't think I've written that many songs so quickly in one sitting ever before, and certainly not used them all on one album in virtually the same order as I wrote them.
"The muse was certainly with me. I went into the studio immediately after my two Christmas gigs in Liverpool and we recorded the whole thing over a ten day period - taking time off for minor inconveniences such as Christmas and New Year's.
"My favourite records of mine are always recorded fast. Here's another one of them. Hope you enjoy it. I can’t wait to play these new songs in front of an audience, I’m very proud of them and how they have turned out," he added.
The CD is available exclusively from Ian's website.
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