Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this edition of the Independent Spotlight, I’m going to be digging into ‘My Finest Hour,’ a new EP from the English singer songwriter, Andy Oliver. The folky has already received quite a bit of acclaim for his previous efforts, so there’s a lot riding on this new album. Even Don Mclean has had kind words for Oliver’s work. So with that said, I’m not entirely sure why he needs my input... (I mean, come on. Don Mclean.) I digress. Let’s check out the man’s new record.
‘We’re all caught in circadian rhythm,’ Oliver croons over a subtle acoustic backing and rather simplistic production. His voice is quite similar to, well, someone like Don Mclean. He’s got some serious vocal chops, but I like how he suppresses something in the music. It’s intentionally easy going: soft on the ears, easy to sing along to, and vocally angelic. For what it is and what it’s supposed to be, it’s perfect.
‘The Shock of the Fall’ has wonderful acoustic instrumentation. The use of the acoustic guitar and piano are more prominent here because there isn’t any percussion supporting the track. I actually like this better than ‘Ordinary Day.’ The brevity of the sonic space of this track makes it more poignant. Plus, once the percussion hops in three quarters of the way through, it’s more of a statement.
There is something that this record is missing, though: a beautiful little flute introduction. Fear not, dear listener, the title track, ‘Finest Hour,’ fulfills the flute quota quite elegantly. A softly overdriven guitar accompanies Oliver’s wonderful vocals in remarkable harmony. I love the chorus on this track. It’s infectiously catchy and well written. Hook writing is an often overlooked art. Seriously, go write me a good hook. It’s very difficult. Oliver has mastered that art well and that expertise shines through most powerfully on ‘Finest Hour.’
‘Why God Why’ is one of the more emotional tracks on the album. It feels like an incredible departure from the happy pastures of ‘Ordinary Day.’ In actuality, this change is very welcome. This darker, more introspective lyricism suits Oliver. It feels like an even better use of his talent, and thus, ‘Why God Why’ is one of the best of the seven tracks. ‘Take comfort in the night sky that we all live under,’ Oliver advises. ‘And when it feels it’s only falling in on you - that’s when you wonder, ‘why God, why?’ Beautiful.
The harmonies on ‘Reasons’ make it a hauntingly gorgeous finale. Even though I’ll always be ridiculed for it, I am a massive John Denver fan and always will be. ‘Reasons’ sounds like it’s straight off of a Denver record. Also, that brings me to a point I wanted to address before the end of this review...
Oliver classifies himself as folk music. That’s an absolutely apt classification of it, but it’s worth noting what kind of folk music it is. In the 1960s, folk was more akin to Bob Dylan or Pete Seeger. There was a very definitive switch in folk style at the beginning of the 1970s. Artists like Don Mclean, Harry Chapin, John Denver, James Taylor, and a slew of others made the genre much more introspective and feelings based. (Historically, this is because they were so burnt out of the previous decade’s heavily political and angsty folk music.) I wanted to mention that Oliver’s folk music is on the latter spectrum, the early 1970s folk. There’s a huge difference between the two versions of folk, and I think it’s worth mentioning which to expect with Oliver.
In any case, ‘My Finest Hour’ may certainly be Andy Oliver’s finest hour. It’s a fantastic record that’s beautifully composed, well sung, and well performed. It’s absolutely worth checking out to get your fix of soft acoustic singer songwriting. Check it out at the links below: