Thursday, March 12, 2009
Album Review: Hague
Artist: Hague a/k/a Mark Stenton
Title: (self titled)
A few folks have heard the bromide, “Taking coals to Newcastle.” A substantially smaller circle will know that Newcastle Upon Tyne, a northeast English town, was “home” to significant rock music talents including; Sting (The Police), Brian Johnstone (Ac/Dc), Brian Ferry (Roxy Music), Eric Burden (The Animals), Lindesfarne, Splinter, Nic Armstrong, Mark Knopfler (Dire Straits) and Andy Taylor (Duran Duran). Much like the midwest American cities of Omaha or Detroit, Newcastle has a perchance for rust-belt rock n’ roll that leans towards metal. So it a tribute to the internet that, ‘Hague’ has been able to muster any accord amid the heavier sounds that Newcastle is known for.
As an avid music fan, I lost my muse. Where it went I could not say. Perhaps it was the grind of 24 years in the pre-recorded music retail business – an industry that is literally less than half the business it was five years ago. And more than a few musical muses have been pilloried on the rail of radio’s endless blah, blah, blah. Having celebrated the twentieth anniversary of, ‘Pacific Street Blues & Americana’ (www.KIWRblues.Podomatic.com) I’d become a part of that dinge albeit trying to convey art over amassing an audience. I lost my rock n’ roll heart…so much so that I’ve resorted to trolling the internet listening to obscure LPFM (low powered frequency modulation) radio stations that recent legislation in Britain created. One day I found a heartbeat. Lionheart Radio, a real community station, located in Alnwick, Northumberland: a mere hamlet on the North Sea coast between Newcastle and the lowlands of Scotland. It was art. Oh, it’s not that their air-talent is that “talented.” One day it’s a conversation about Mrs. Thompson’s fresh garden tomatoes and the next it’s a choir of school children. Host Ally Lee is perhaps the most spontaneous deejay I’ve heard since KQKQ died in May of 1978. Lionheart is a come-to-life ‘Petticoat Junction’ that streams across the internet. It’s a community and you’re welcome to listen in.
It was on Lionheart that I heard the musical project by forty year old Mark Stenton’s. In a world where tits sell toothpaste, this was all together different. ‘Hague’ is at once a nostalgic memory you never had and the lilting smell of mom’s hug after coming in from the cold. It is the simple interplay between vocal, acoustic guitar and rich backing textures that allow the listener to focus on the well written music that sweeps you away with mental images and rendering lyric lines. The used of space is brilliant. Whether a keyboard, flute or super low bass, Hague builds a audio soundscape that is immediately friendly. Stenton’s sound is a bit ‘Bare Trees’ (Fleetwood Mac), a tad ascending English sing-a-long and a less palliative David Gray.
This five track EP opens with the track, ‘Fool.’ Stenton juxtaposes a flute against a strumming guitar as he sings, “You act like a fool, so they think you’re a fool. You want to fit in but I don’t know where on earth to begin.” It is a powerful song with layered texture and solo-era Lennon bite. “You say many things, without saying anything. Who’s in the mirror staring at you? What are trying to prove, when you act like a fool?”
“These northern stars flicker in silence, and the moon is burning red.” The album closes with the near cinematic song, ‘Northern Blues.’ Stenton uses space among a sonic pallet that harkens Townshend with, ‘See me, hear me, come on talk to me. Feel me and heal me, come on home to me.” A kick drum emulates a heartbeat as the song’s character bemoans a departed lover or the death of a dear someone. “These northern lights, they dance awhile, like the spirits breaking free. I’ll sing to you, my northern blues. Till you’re resting with me.” At 2:21 this is a powerful and moving artscape that is dramatic, underplayed and wrenchingly beautiful. This five track EP “has no filler.” Hague can be heard at; http://haguemusic.co.uk/