People always tell you not to judge something by its cover; if that’s in regards to a person, then fine, I agree; I don’t want to be judged by my cover at 6am on a Monday morning. But in regards to anything else, I think you should judge things by their covers, and anyone who tells you not to is an idiot and just repeating a saying that went out of date before it was even said. If the cover is to your taste, the likelihood is, so will be its content. That’s my rule of thumb and I’m sticking to it. So when I saw the artwork for Chris Belson’s new E.P. I hoped I was in for a treat (interestingly in regards to this point, Belson had designed the artwork himself).
‘Moon Songs’ might be his first E.P., but Belson has already garnered some notable praise: “An outstanding new talent for today…” Mojo.
Like a consummate professional, I started the record at the beginning, and while swaying to the intro of ‘Children’ I looked at the picture of Belson and thought he reminded me a little of Michael Cera, so I was expecting a similar tone to come from my computer when he sang; but then, there’s that voice. It comes out of nowhere like a long, pulled note on a double bass, that somehow trips into octaves a double bass could only dream about.
While I was listening to the record I was staying with my mum, who I know to be quite a ruthless critic of my, and anyone else’s, work. She walked in to the room and the first thing she greeted me with was “Who’s this? Great voice …” I said who it was and that I was reviewing it. She said “Well, a great voice is one thing, but let’s see if he’s written any good lyrics.”
For the rest of the E.P. mum sat there in complete silence, and when it was over, said “He’s great, play it again.” One can only assume she was satisfied with the lyrics, that range from planetary metaphors such as ‘Planets Align’, which fills you with the hope that you are not alone in being unable to read “what’s written in the stars” (Lord knows I’ve tried) to ‘Without You Again’, which uses nature and landscapes to describe what it’s like not being around the one you love. ‘Dogs Are Howling At The Moon’ contains the imagined meaning behind the howls, and their relatability to lovers, friends and family who are far away; and the transitions of the moon are used to represent the ebb and flow of romantic emotions.
Belson began playing on a broken old Spanish guitar he bought at an auction age 12, which he still has, and the album focuses around the guitar and his accomplishment on it; though hints of piano, horns and an occasional rhythm section throughout the record keep it interesting.
So, let it be known: Chris Belson is the whole package. He’s Leonard Cohen with a good range, he’s a lighter Tom Waits, he’s Johnny Cash without the guns, in ‘Dogs are Howling at the Moon’ I can hear J.J. Cale; he has the hymn-like rhythm of country with the homely melancholy of folk. But then at the same time, he’s none of these. Chris Belson is different. He has a knack of creating melodies where the notes seem to chase themselves and the album creates a sort of melodic circle, much like the face of the moon on its cover. And how nice not to be hounded by bass, how nice not to hear another girl singing folk-y songs like a baby, how nice to hear a man, though having a competent range, not feel the need to drive home the message he can compete with a mezzo-soprano. In sum, Chris Belson is a bloody relief.
‘Moon Songs’ has been released on the record label ‘Laid Bare Records’, which emerged from acoustic nights of the same name: ‘Laid Bare Live’, all founded and operated by Rami Radi, who himself has his roots in acoustic music.
‘Moon Songs’ is out now and you can catch Chris Belson at the launch party upstairs at the Ritzy on Thursday the 14th of January, for free. How bloody nice.