Sunday, 14 April 2013

Discovery: Safe Haven - Sermon For No One

"Someone pass me a beer," the idle country rock connoisseur says somewhere in Alabama. And whilst Emmylou Harris continues her magnificent career as a female country singer-songwriter in a domain of dirty, croak voiced gents, we look back on Pieces of the Sky with a "Heart of Gold" and a line to walk on. The Lynyrd Skynyrd's of today are in their 50s, and the blues rock influences of Howlin' Wolf, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters are nothing but a label - the Coltrane, Davis and Brubeck of Jazz. So when a label or genre gets thrown about, is it worth following it through, or following the people behind it?

Safe Haven are the Harris', Skynyrd's, Cash's and Young's of Americana music. Without all the alt-country / southern rock labelling, Safe Haven play what is commonly known as bluegrass, with blues influences. The blues musicians named above are scratched into the ceiling of Safe Haven, some of which (Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf) are from Safe Haven's home and main influence, Chicago, Illinois. Their sophomore album Sermon For No One is a blend of traditional roots music and modern country. Their brass influence from the Chicago blues hub can be heard in tracks such as "Leave Me Where I Want to be" and "Eternal Flame". It's an accomplished circle of genres, labels and hometown appreciation that is really at the heart of Safe Haven and their music.

"Suburban Weekend" is their Young song, with distorted electric guitars and story-telling lyrics. It comes as an abrasive opposite to "Colorado Moon", the acoustic slide guitar track with harmony. Too much slide can grind my teeth, as Sermon For No One does. "Never Change" doesn’t have the structure and vocal production quality to hit the peaks on this album. The slide guitar also russles my jimmies like "Going to Germany".

Strangely it's not the potential singles that leave me wanting more, or the Young inspired album tracks. It's the Safe Haven interpretation of Washington Phillips' "What Are They Doing in Heaven Today?" that captures my attention. After listening to Mogwai's version earlier in the year, it was a pleasant surprise to hear yet another version of the gospel classic appeared. Lead vocalist and guitarist Pat Lyons encases Safe Haven's background and future in this soft and melodic cover.

Sermon For No One isn't an overbearing album of American patriotism, though it is an album of influences rolled up into a big round ball. Safe Haven are not the saviours of Chicago blues, or bluegrass. They're not the breath of fresh air rockabilly needs, or the heartland answer to pop diva's Taylor Swift. Safe Haven are the sound of, the 'sound of'. It's a hard genre to pull away from, to do it you must constantly re-invent, change directions and pull a few strings with a bunch of executives. They can be among Sirius XM's Bluegrass Junction list of artists. They're better than the country drivel that plagues the US Country charts, such as "I Drive Your Truck" and whatever Garth Brooks is putting out. This is a solid album with clear standouts and a few glitches. It's essentially the music you want to hear on a Thursday night, anywhere across the great United States with the bartender passing you a beer.

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