Monday, 19 June 2017

Album Review: Never Settle by Hope In High Water (by Emma Prew)

Hope In High Water are a dark and raw folk duo from Milton Keynes. Their unique sound combines elements of Americana, blues, country, English folk music and even hints of soul. That combination might have you questioning why such a band is being reviewed on Colin’s ‘Punk Rock’ World but both members of Hope In High Water spent time in the punk scene prior to coming together as a musical duo (sorry if that sounds like jail time!). Josh Chandler-Morris used to be the vocalist and sax player in one of Colin’s favourite UK ska punk bands, Anti-Vigilante, while Carly Slade played bass and sang backing vocals in Hackney-based Trashcat. Upon first listen, Hope In High Water sound nothing like their previous bands but there is no denying that without their punk roots they wouldn’t be where they are today.

Never Settle is Hope In High Water’s debut album, featuring songs that they have written and perfected playing live over the course of the last few years. The album was recorded by Luke Yates, of Crazy Arm and The Human Project, who also plays violin on the album. Hope In High Water were also joined by Josh’s old bandmate, Darren Capp, on drums. Having heard the duo play several of these songs live, I was very much looking forward to hearing them – plus more – with a fuller sound. It’s safe to say that I wasn’t disappointed.

The album begins with a song called Time Shall Pass. It is a quiet and soothing start with a gentle acoustic guitar and banjo led intro before Josh’s vocals and a drum roll kicks in. Time Shall Pass is a heartfelt track about how it is sometimes better to feel pain for a time than feeling regret forever. ‘I would rather hurt 1000 times, Than regret leaving you behind.’ A suitable introduction to Never Settle. Next up is Bored Of Just Getting By. There are no drums on this song but the guitar playing sets the rhythm. It’s a little louder than the first track but still does its job of easing the listener in. The song features duel vocals from the outset and show for the first time on Never Settle just how perfectly matched Josh and Carly’s voices are. Josh’s voice is more prominent but the song definitely wouldn’t be half as lovely without Carly in the background. This song is about trying to enjoy life and not take each day for granted, even if it seems a struggle sometimes. ‘Maybe we’ll feel alive, Just for tonight.’ / ‘Am I foolish if I believe?’

A video for Four Strange Walls was released to coincide with the release of the album and features Josh and Carly wandering through a forest. It’s visually as beautiful as the song itself and I highly recommend giving it a watch (here) and being as mesmerised as I was. This song has a very much bluesy feel to it with a wonderful swinging motion to Carly’s banjo playing. The lyrics speak of struggles with alcohol addiction – ‘Lost myself to the bottle’ / ‘I was young, I was stupid…’ . It is a powerful song despite its despairing lyrics about dealing with inner demons. Carly’s vocals are amazing – and that’s coming from someone who until the last few years or so couldn’t get on with female vocalists (I know, I know that’s terrible). After Four Strange Walls, Josh takes back vocal duties for Pictures. His vocals are accompanied by some lovely finger picked acoustic guitar. Pictures is a song about wanting to be alone when dealing with the loss of a loved one. ‘Put your pictures in a frame, Hang them on the wall and forget the pain’. The melancholic violin in the middle and at the end of the song adds an extra element to the band’s sound – I’d love to see Luke join Josh and Carly at a future Hope In High Water gig, fingers crossed. (If he brings Crazy Arm along too I wouldn’t complain either!)

The fifth song, Who’s Gonna Hold Your Hand, is one the handful of songs on Never Settle that I’ve heard before, both live and on the EP that they released last year. This version of the song has been given a new lease of life compared to the live version by adding in drums and percussion which gives the song a much bigger sound. There’s more of those bluesy feels in the vocals and the rolling banjo rhythm properly gets your head nodding. It also makes me want to pick up the dusty banjo at my parents’ house that I bought several years ago but never learn how to play. One of my favourites on Never Settle, for sure. Next up is Angels In Heaven, another song that I’ve heard live a few times – in fact, the first time I heard it I was convinced that I’d heard it before. It turns out that I have heard it before, somewhere, because it’s a traditional song (Tom Waits did a version so maybe I’ve heard that somewhere along the way.) It’s very soulful, very bluesy. There are points in the song where the instruments pause and its all about Josh’s vocals which is great as he has a fine voice – it’s hard to believe he’s the same person that used to scream and shout in Anti-Vigilante.

Forgive Me is an upbeat number that kicks off with drums ahead of anything else. It reminds me of Crazy Arm on their acoustic country-style album, The Southern Wild, but I guess what it really sounds like is more authentic country-style music – it’s just I’m not actually much of a country listener! This song is about dealing with grief and realising that you haven’t always been the best person but wanting to change that and not wanting those around you to suffer because of it. ‘Throughout my youth I forgot my prayers, Pursuing happiness without a care, In these last few years I’m back down on my knees, Show me the error of my sins, But please don’t take the ones I love.’  Following on from Forgive Me is a song with gentle beginnings, Late Nights. The soft acoustic guitar with Josh’s slightly husky vocals and Carly’s warm tones is a simple combination but one that works. This is a song of loneliness and loss – not knowing which route to take in life or what to do next. ‘I’ve got no reason for tears, People have had it much harder here, And I know that time is precious, And I’m wasting all of mine, Late nights drunk and crying.’ It’s heartbreaking yet startlingly relatable if you’ve ever dealt with any form of depression. From one melancholic song to another, She Cries is a distinct almost gospel-sounding blues song. The acoustic guitar and drums are there and I also think I hear a bass guitar underneath – well, Carly did play bass in her old punk band after all. She Cries tells the tale of a woman who appears strong on the outside but breaks down when she’s alone. Carly’s vocals are powerful, sad and full of emotion. ‘Now she’s got no one to fall back on, Nobody’s got her back, And her heart couldn’t be mended, She couldn’t put it right, But she chose to put up defences, She chose to put up a fight.’ This track also features a great violin solo.

Heartaches On Hold is a banjo-heavy country song. The slow pace holds your attention as you nod along to the plucking of the banjo and let the song whisk you off to Nashville (or is it Milton Keynes?). Carly leads on this song but Josh adds excellent harmonies on the chorus – ‘I need, I need you here right now. But you’re never around, And so I drown. I drown, I drown in these sorrows, Hoping that tomorrow you’ll come back home.’ This song really pulls at your heartstrings. In fact, listening to it so closely, as I do when I review a song, it almost brought me to tears. That’s impressive songwriting. Then we come to the album’s closing track. When Sorrow Calls was also the title track of the EP that I mentioned previously, which was released last year. It’s such a good song that it’s no surprise that Hope In High Water wanted to include it on their full length debut and as the final song as well. When Sorrow Calls has almost solely vocals for the first verse with only very subtle acoustic guitar chords. This song is about finding hope in the darkest of situations. People are amazing, sometimes. ‘Don’t you think it’s amazing friend, The human spirit endures such things, I just hope I can find some strength, When sorrow calls at my door again.’ Although, like much of the album, this is a sorrowful song (it is in the track title after all) there is a distinct sense of hope that ends the album. There’s a reason why this band is called Hope In High Water and it's inspiring. Never settle. Never give up.

I understand that most of our regular CPRW readers may not be onboard with Americana or country music but if you like anything remotely folky, particularly folk punk with the inclusion of a banjo, then I urge you to give this album and this band a listen. Their songwriting tackles subjects that I feel could really connect with many of our readers and their musicianship is incredible. Hope In High Water deserve to be appreciated by more than just folk fans.

Never Settle is released on Fish Records and you can buy a physical copy here. It's also available to stream on Spotify or download on iTunes. You can and should also like Hope In High Water on Facebook here.

And finally, Alessia Pedrosa, a talented tattoo artist, illustrated the wonderful Never Settle album artwork.

This review was written by Emma Prew.