This is to Houston what Saved is to Dylan: a McCrarified gospel-fest with Stax of heart. He’s having his Mike Farris moment.
Label: Brian Houston Songs
Time: 11 tracks / 37 minutes
The irrepressible Brian Houston encapsulates the spirit that makes independent music so important. Never releasing the same album twice, his music is as surprising as it is honest and joyful.
From its opening gospel moans, brass stabs and Houston insisting with attitude, “Come on my soul, it’s time to do what you’re told – it’s time to rejoice!” you just know that this is yet another direction, and his most exciting so far.
He has a deft way with words and a keen sense of observation, but - like Dylan on Saved - he has thrown most of that to one side for this release and has simply let his heart explode with joy. It’s nearly all celebrations and praise, with the odd psalm-like piece thrown in. Think Mike Farris coming from Belfast.
The loudest songs are the best, whether full-blown gospel belters like “Come On My Soul” and “Plant Your Seed,” the stompalong of “Five Dollars” or the dirty blues guitar of “Lord, Pity the Fool.”
For some tracks - again, like Dylan - he has the McCrary sisters on backing vocals and this makes for an unusual sound. It’s gospel, but not quite as you know it. His Irish accent means that on “Shout” we hear “I’m gonna shote, shote/ tell the horl wide world what I’m talkin’ abote”. Similarly, “Prices Go Up” has this vocal backing, but standing behind a perky pop piece. So it’s not standard Nashville fare, but that’s what makes it such an inspired, original and authentic take on the genre.
Occasionally, he does slow it down, such as on “The Voice of God,” where he brings out his Roy Orbison side and that Marmite falsetto, but even here, he has a strong melody and words that reach the heart: “When you look twice at your neighbour’s wife /and something whispers, ‘Too high a price’ /That’s the voice of God… When you feel as if you can’t go on /And someone says, ‘When you’re weak I’m strong’ / That’s the voice of God”.
The album closes with the exhilarating title track, which has so much going for it that it seems to be two great songs intertwined. It is especially here that he does things with his voice that he may never have tried on record before. It’s so adrenalising that it just has to go on repeat.
Producer Tre Sheppard has brought way to the front a resonant, surfy, Spaghetti Western guitar tone that Houston has previously used, but which has been tucked away underneath other things. That mix has a lot to do with the full sound here.
Don’t be fooled by any apparent similarities to his Gospel Road album because of its title. That was Johnny-Cash-meets-doo-wap fare. This is thicker, richer, fuller and seven times more exuberant; a different type of gospel altogether. It may even surpass his very different previous best, Sugar Queen. Play loud, then play again.