by James Morris, Contributing Blogger
Album Review of Norwood: Notes to My Blood
There is a refreshing “don’t give a damn” ethos at work on this new album, Notes to My Blood, by Norwood. I mean, come on, you’re only 17 seconds in when you are hit with the first F-word on the album. “Prayer” is a nice, loose acoustic opener. No frills, just a polite acoustic word with the Almighty to “make me punk as f***”. Maybe he longs to trade in the acoustic and go electric, thrash the hell out of life and kick a few amps in. What I like is that the next song kinda does. The natty titled “Randolph Carter Rides Again” kicks straight out of the blocks and immediately you realise that Norwood does not appreciate being cast in one mould or tied to a genre. Its like Chris Norwood explains, “These songs are for the people who take life on a person-by-person basis.”
So expect a varied journey through some great songs that don’t sit in a box of convenience. I am immediately struck by the lyrical nature of the songs that spring from the pen of Chris Norwood. Even in his promo blurb he comes across as creative and thoughtful, as if the imagery of words express themselves from his very soul. The imaginative approach to what is written, as a songwriter myself, makes me very respectful of his approach and his need to express himself without cliche. He says he comes from an ordinary, unremarkable background, “I don’t have a romantic legacy to fall back on, nor do I have the charm of someone who comes from absolutely no background whatsoever. All I have are my guts and a good sense of rhythm.” Guts and rhythm are serving him well on this record.
The album forces you to sit and listen. It’s not something you just put on in the background. You need to take the time to hear the songs and unravel the lyrical twists and turns. There is so much music these days. It’s too easy for people to zone out and find that, with music playing everywhere, they don’t remember any of it. Well stop and take 40 minutes out to actually play this album and do nothing else.
Although the songs are all individual and distinct, there is a clever lyrical and strong musical thread that runs throughout. The band behind Mr. Norwood are perfectly suited to his musical needs and provide a strong backbone to his free-falling style. “I pride myself on being rough around the edges,” he claims. The trick, therefore, is to surround yourself with a bunch of musicians that click together, and this band that comprises of Nastasia Green, Keith Michael Pinault, Hajnal Pivnick, and Max Maples, each play their part in making this record work so well.
Track 3 is “Art Is Never Free” and again takes you in another direction from the previous songs. This is not a problem. The variance is anchored by the ability of the band and a wonderful, almost Hurricane/Dylan weaving violin running across the tracks. It tells you an unorthodox tale set to a great upbeat, catchy tune, slightly reminiscent of the sort of thing The Beautiful South may have done back in their day.
I’m going to say now that, like a film you are planning on going to see and don’t want someone to tell you how it ends, I am not going to tell you what each of the songs is about. So much of the pleasure for me listening was hearing the stories, working stuff out, and getting immersed in the richness of the words chosen to be sung. So go get the album and discover the delights for yourself.
Meanwhile, I will tell you a bit more of how the album made me feel as I wander through the track listing as it plays in my ears.
“New Song” is slower and sounds classy; it reminded me of just how much the band work so well, but also the production on the album is handled with great delicacy allowing everything to breathe.
This is once again demonstrated on “Moonlight,” which is probably the most commercial-sounding tune. Like They Might Be Giants but more interesting.
“I Never Told You” and “Pretend” show how the individual and combined voices of Chris Norwood and Nastasia Green work so well together. Voices made for each other. Both songs have more of that great violin I spoke of earlier, and the words and continuing fine tunes just keep you captivated.
“Middle Child” and “Skin” keep it moving and keep you interested, and then the album is rounded out with “When The Time Comes,” a lively, enjoyably acidly angry song. “You can’t hurt me anymore,” they cry in defiance.
I like this album a lot. It’s that loose styled defiance, combined with being able to write melodic and interesting songs. There is no harm, of course, in being backed up by a tight strong band. All this makes me recommend you go and get Notes to My Blood soon because it is already out there my friends and it is waiting to be heard.
If you want to see them live, you can catch Norwood on Saturday, September 17th at the Bitter End in New York City.