Adam Naylor – Stories Of Another Time – Album Review
“I’m hiding in my fiction department and I’ll make you believe…”
I have to admit, even though I probably gleaned a whole different meaning out of that line than perhaps is intended…I enjoyed my own interpretation of what Adam Naylor was singing about on the opening track of his brand-new record Stories Of Another Time. Mind you…I might not be too far off the mark at all…to me, it was like hearing a metaphor for the exact moment in time he was in, where he was on a conceptual level, and the mindset he likely had in creating this sincere set of songs. Like “My Fiction Department” was referring to the ‘place’ you’re in when you’re comfortable, safe, and free to create in whatever way you want to without judgment…and through the authentically humble sound you can hear comes along with Naylor’s music right from moment one of this album, he will make you believe. You’ll believe in the songwriting, you’ll believe in the sound – you’ll believe in this artist; he’s got heart.
He’s also got that perfect hint of an accent that really makes a difference. Mind you, that could be just me…I’ve always loved the sound of a Scottish accent in spoken word, music, everyday life…you name it; maybe that’s just because it’s different than what we so often typically hear, but call me crazy, it makes a difference when we listen as a result. It feels…more like we get to travel somewhere with Adam’s music in that sense…and I think that genuinely adds to the experience, though of course this is all natural and an organic part of the allure in Naylor’s sound that’s likely far beyond his control. To a degree anyhow…I think we’ve all experienced a singer that tries to mask the accents of their homeland – I get it in the sense that the dinosaurs of the industry used to think everything had to be as perfectly clear as clear could be, in as straightforward unfiltered English as possible. To me, that was always an antiquated method to begin with, and a lot like trying to force a left-handed person to live a right-handed life…we’re all different and music should always both recognize and celebrate that fact. Embrace your natural talents, whatever they may be, and be the best YOU that you can be – that’s what matters when it comes to making music in my opinion…and that’s what’s working for me on this album. I’ve read the background story on Naylor’s journey to create this record and the fact that he’s essentially made a ton of this album outside his ‘normal’ methods…collaborating & opening-up his world to enlist some guest-stars in front of & behind the studio boards…but really, what you’ll notice likely more than anything else on Stories Of Another Time is the humble sound of an artist in their natural environment.
Which makes me think there’s a real opportunity out there for a National Geographic show or YouTube channel that stumbles across ‘musicians in the wild’ where camera crews roll out over treks of vast terrain, past mountains & streams, all to end up on a dude like Naylor’s porch where he’s playing live.
I’m just sayin’ I’d tune in for that is all. Get that narrator in the background as we approach…you get it.
According to what I’ve read, Stories Of Another Time is Adam’s 5th official album – and he opens this record with one of the best cuts as the gateway in. Beautiful tones on that guitar of his, and the voice he’s got hits the mark right off the bat as “My Fiction Department” begins with its innocent perspective & quaint, inviting sound. With an assist from Ana Luisa Ramos in the harmonies of the chorus – you’ll find her & her gorgeous voice show up several times throughout the lineup of songs on this record. “My Fiction Department” makes extraordinary use of pace & spacing to a mesmerizing degree…I consistently found myself sitting here, lost in my thoughts and the wonderful sound of this record’s first song. What I think I loved about this song beyond all things was the immediate impression it puts out there…you can hear the high standard of care being put into the performance and the innate humbleness the song itself contains. There’s an instant comfort that comes along with listening to this first song that sets you at ease; you can hear you’re on solid ground…that Naylor knows his way around the microphone & music.
There’s an immaculate line that I love in the song “I Really Don’t Want To Miss Out” that fuels the chorus, where Adam sings the title direct for ya. “You said I wish I could look both ways at once/Cos I really don’t want to miss out.” For real y’all! What a great way to express wanting to take in everything life has to offer us…I thought that was fantastic; I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to find out that he wrote the entire song around that core concept/melody – it literally sounds like the centerpiece of the theme. I like the tip-tappin’ of the guitar-body for the percussion, I like the gentle support of the bass-lines, and the guitar sweetly shines throughout the length of this understated Indie/Folk gem – and if I’m being 100% honest with ya, as good as all these elements of “I Really Don’t Want To Miss Out” are – it’s the main star of the show that steals your heart with this song and the way he sings it. Between the impressive storyline & lyricism on display throughout this cut and the remarkable down-to-earth guy-next-door way he so freely sings this song like he’s relating the very joys of life to you…I mean…it’s a magnificent tune really ain’t it? Like…look…basically what I’m saying is, it can be extremely tough to stand out in the acoustic singer/songwriter realm of the music-industry whether you’re in the independent scene or the mainstream…there has to be some sort of unique & indefinable connection that attaches to us somehow…the kind of feeling you might not be able to explain, but you can feel. That’s what a song like “I Really Don’t Want To Miss Out” has. If you like a great combination of story & song unified together as one, this is a stellar blueprint & example of how to go about it all the right way. Without a doubt another one of my favorites from this album, Adam is straight-up charming here.
She might not have quite as much of a role on “Waterfall In The Hills” as she did in the opening track, but the addition of Ana Luisa in the chorus draws out the sweetness in the sentiment of this song. All-in-all, this third cut has a large degree of accessibility & a bit fuller sound than we’ve experienced in the first couple tunes…not a ton more mind you, but a noticeable amount. Adam continues to shine on a lyrical-level throughout this song…you notice themes of escape, nostalgia, nature…these elements become growing themes throughout the lineup of tunes on Stories Of Another Time and highlights the reflective & vivid thought-provoking imagery he uses so well. Though I’d probably side with the first two songs for my own personal taste, I’d also have to be honest and admit that Naylor had me onboard with “Waterfall In The Hills” from its very first line, where he sings “I’m relying on my best laid plans working out.” I could write an essay around what he’s saying in that line to us all…but I’ll be as concise as possible in knowing that chances are, you can relate to that statement yourself in many ways. I think if you’re an artist…whether it’s a musician, painter, writer, whatever…if you’re not at some point in time finding that you’re relying on your own best laid plans working out, then you’ve missed something important along the way. True art is all about risk…and quite often that means putting yourself out there with no safety net in place to catch you if you fall. “We can’t have control of everything,” he’ll go on to remind you…and that’s absolutely correct…but it’s also in letting go that we genuinely discover what we’re really made of…and I suspect that Naylor either knows this too, or has just found this out.
What I really like about the way Adam’s music & songs come out quite often is that it would be really hard to choose between a particular verse or chorus on most of these tunes as being your favorite part, which leads to a really impressive balance on each cut as you listen. That’s not always going to be the case of course…I mean, a chorus is a chorus for a reason – generally speaking, that’s where you’re going to find the biggest hooks of any tune time after time. So while it’s been rad to hear songs like the first three tracks on this album that really end up playing like continually solid experiences…sometimes a bit of up/down momentum can add a ton of dimension & depth to a specific moment. As in, the chorus of “Newhaven Harbour Blues” featuring The Rentons could very well be one of the most memorable highlights & hooks that you’ll find on this entire record. I was actually reading a lot about this kind of stuff lately in the book Ben Folds wrote called A Dream About Lightning Bugs – A Life Of Music And Cheap Lessons…which I highly recommend everyone out there reads, especially you LIVE musicians. He explains that true dynamics come from so many different things beyond a typical soft/loud recipe – and that sometimes with music & art echoing life itself, we end up with peaks & valleys in the songs we create. While a valley might not seem as important or interesting by comparison to a peak – you have to really ask yourself whether or not either could exist without the other; it’s the fact that there’s a dip before the fireworks come out that make them burst so brightly – you feel me? I think the music of “Newhaven Harbour Blues,” especially with the addition of the violin, stands out brilliantly throughout this whole song…I LIKE the verse, but I LOVE the chorus…and just like I’ve been trying to explain, the reason why that is, is completely because of how these two aspects of the song complement each other. Great harmonies, great energy…”Newhaven Harbour Blues” has a genuinely uplifting vibe that runs through the spirit of the sound & melody they’ve created in this collaboration…and I think that, moment for moment, this song gets better & better from the time it starts to the time it’s all over.
I am…probably much more indifferent about “Learn To Fly” than I am towards any other song in this set – I could take or leave it if I’m being completely truthful. Vice-versa from what we just experienced in “Newhaven Harbour Blues,” for myself personally, it was all about the verses when it came to this short & sweet tune…as for the chorus…not so much. And take that with the grain of salt it should come with – I’m just another guy with an opinion at the end of the day and it’s an opinion based on personal taste more-so than any flaws in the execution, which you simply won’t find exist. When it comes to the guitar, the bass-lines, the harmonies from Ana Luisa, or the lead from Adam, there isn’t anything to fault, they do their thang and they do it well. Here’s what I’d guess…I suspect that the general consensus from Adam and Ana Luisa would have likely been close to my own – and that might very well be the reason this tune is the shortest one you’ll find on the record by more than a full minute. There’s risk being taken with the chorus of this cut, I ain’t gonna lie to ya; it has all the hallmarks of a hook that’s going to wear out real quick on listeners out there…which again, to me, makes it a really smart move actually to let this song be the short moment it is in an effort to give it a chance of not wearing out. Even in this short dose however…my gut tells me that “Learn To Fly” is still going to prove to be a much tougher sell to the masses in amongst a lineup of songs that have the advantage of more time & depth to them by comparison. Feel free to flip that all around if you like…it’s actually quite the compliment to Naylor’s songwriting & execution overall when it comes right down to it…he’s set a high standard so far.
“One Thing On My Mind” could very well be one of the bigger unsung heroes of this lineup…though hopefully a few of you out there pick up on the humble magic in this tune and start singing along right away. I’m a big, big fan of this song…I think the melody is spectacularly low-key, it sounds like Adam is using the hollow-body of his acoustic as the percussion again, and I love that – I also feel like the man sings this song with the perfect amount of sincerity to really make it connect. Adam’s got a real gift for detailing his perspective, thoughts, emotions, and feelings within his lyrics & the imagery he chooses to use…all this stacks up and adds to the experience as we listen to “One Thing On My Mind.” Highlight moment for me, you ask? Probably the last line & exit out of the chorus…just that extra layer of melodic input he adds to the vocal-flow there is so completely key and a massive part of what gives it that extra special something that dives straight towards your soul to pluck on your heartstrings. No complaints from me here at any point along the way though…I think “One Thing On My Mind” shows the depth of emotion in his music more plainly on the surface than you might find in any other song from Stories Of Another Time. I am 100% interested in what’s up with the recording methods being applied to this tune or how he went about it…at first I was convinced what I was hearing had to be happening outside of sleepingbagstudios somewhere, but nope – right there around the ol’ 1:57 mark, I’m positive I can hear a single dog bark that came through in the recording. I COULD be wrong…it might be fingers sliding down strings & frets in a weird way…it’s in distant background, but there is definitely a strange lil’ noise that shows up right there in the mix…and in this particular setting, I mean…c’mon folks…it really adds to experience in the slightest & subtle ways, but brings in an even more raw & shining honesty to the results. Plus…it’s like that dog had it right, if that is indeed what I’m hearing – because from that moment forward, what you’ll hear on “One Thing On My Mind” surges forth to greatness from there.
I’ve long claimed that being able to compare one artist or song to another also identifies a crossover potential that exists & thrives inside of the music…one that can potentially reveal influences or even widen the audience as well. Like, if you’re asking me…and seems like someone did…I’d tell ya that at its core, a song like “Just Like You” has just as much in common with a Blink 182 hit as it does anything in the Folk/Indie style of Naylor’s current peers. This is as rowdy as you’ll hear Adam on this particular record…it’s still acoustic-based and a solid fit into this lineup…and perhaps it’s the influence of Scott Renton’s appearance on this song that’s got Naylor more fired-up on “Just Like You” – who knows? Whatever is providing the spark of energy, whether it’s past-influences or good friends, you can hear the whole vibe of this record spring to life again when “Just Like You” comes along…I’d probably be inclined to say that I’d to be looking at this track as a potential single to put out there & draw people in as well. Like I was alluding to at the beginning in talking about this track, a song that you can hear would thrive just as easily in a completely different environment, style, or approach…that all points towards a ton of potential crossover value that exists in the mix, which of course can bring people on the fringe of different genres into the realm of Indie/Folk he’s rockin.’ “Just Like You” is savagely catchy…ain’t no doubt about that…of any of the songs on this record that you’re likely to sing along with, this is the one.
As with all music, we respond to different things and discover what we love based on a set of personal preferences locked into the code of our hearts & minds…and you never really know where you’ll find that connection when you’re listening to music for those first couple spins. I have no doubt that a song like “Looking For Silver” will take longer to catch on with the masses out there…which is…well…that’s bloody tragic in one sense, but on the other hand it’s actually songs with strength like these that keep people coming back to an album like this over the years to follow. “Looking For Silver” is a highlight example of a song that’s likely going to seriously grow on you over time…it’s got a much moodier demeanor and sound than most of what you’ll find on Stories Of Another Time, which might mean it gets overlooked in comparison to many of the sunny side up songs he’s got on this record as the people out there crack into it…that’s just kind of the natural tendency of the masses. When it comes to us critical types or lifelong fans of music…we’re probably much more apt to jump right on board with this song pretty quickly. So yep, I’d go to bat for this song for sure. I felt like this was a truly captivating cut right from the get-go, and I’d be willing to argue that it continues to strengthen with sound & accessibility as it plays on. Like, by the time you reach the 2:45 mark and “Looking For Silver” starts to shift into its minute-long finale…any doubters of this cut should really be silent by that point – this is a great song.
“Ocean Drive” is an excellent tune and a fantastic representation of the pleasant vibes that run throughout the Adam Naylor sound…he actually reminds me quite a bit of something close to a Chris Collingwood or Adam Schlesinger (R.I.P.) of Fountains Of Wayne here. Chances are with his Scottish accent and Folk-based sound, Naylor’s gonna take on a lot of comparisons to Frightened Rabbit over the length of his career – because that’s where a lot of knowledge starts/stops when it comes to what’s coming out from Scotland in the world of music-journalism. You’ll find it’s much sweeter and charming than Frightened Rabbit tended to be…Naylor’s got much more polished Pop-inclinations buried deep into his melodies than the brooding shifting moodiness of a project like FR was, no disrespect of course to Scott Hutchison (Also R.I.P.) who was indeed, one of the most underrated songwriters of our time. What a beautifully morbid paragraph I’m working on here…the point is that Adam’s got a ton of quality aspects in the way he writes songs, the way he can turn on the sincerity in the way he sings, and how even in more playful settings like the upbeat vibes of “Ocean Drive,” he connects through his thoughts and the feelings he transmits to us listening on the other side of the speakers. Next to “Just Like You,” it felt like “Ocean Drive” had the right degree of accessibility to reach the masses and a humble, earnest, intimate sound that would still appeal to a huge audience. “Ocean Drive” is the kind of song you can hear could go on to be a riotous moment in a live setting…but the quaintness of this particularly subdued & sweet melody also hits the mark spot-on. Adam’s not trying to be anything other than himself in a tune like this…there’s no pretense, just a man making music, because he loves it, and enjoying the view along with you as he paints a picture in your mind with his words on “Ocean Drive.”
With “The Days Don’t Know,” I wouldn’t quite go as far as to say I was unsure about it so much as I was probably just a lil’ less sure about it in comparison to the strengths found in the rest of this record. The main positives for me were the lyrics – I loved them here, they’re filled with an insightful wisdom and a core message all people out there should hear. But when it comes to lyricism, he’s done an excellent job throughout this entire album when it comes right down to it. I also really liked the harmonies on this song with Adam & Ana Luisa together again…they have a great sound when they find that heart of the melody on “The Days Don’t Know.” There are no ‘negatives’ really…”The Days Don’t Know” comes out as well-performed & executed as any of the other songs you’ll hear on Stories Of Another Time…but it might be fair to say something along the lines of that this particular cut sounds ‘easier’ for Adam when it comes to the writing of the words, melody, and music overall…it’s a tough thing to mask. Obviously there’s ultimately really nothing ‘wrong’ with adding a song like this into a lineup and you can point to scores of bands/artists out there that have done the same on a million records throughout music’s history…I just call it like I hear it, and I would with them as well. Five albums in…I have the feeling Naylor’s capable of writing ten songs like “The Days Don’t Know” in a day as opposed to maybe finding tracks like “My Fiction Department,” or the chorus of “Waterfall In The Hills” and the intangible magic moments like those tend to possess so much more rarely. Still a decent tune…every one of these songs IS…it’s only natural that we discover what connects to us the strongest by comparison when we listen.
Sometimes you just wanna get away from it all, beat the ol’ 9-5, and get out there and live yourself some LIFE, am I right? You’ll find the dreamer’s aspect climbs into Naylor’s writing & lyrics quite a bit, and you’ll hear him longing for simpler times where the chaos is much quieter than it currently is right now…and hey, aren’t we all? I think that’s what makes songs like “Travel With The Tide” become so effective in their details…you can really relate to what Adam is singing about with Lindsay Strachan on this song. Chances are, Adam, Lindsay, you, me…we all work too hard; and with so many of us being confined to the struggle of the corporate maze & rat-race we’re stuck in trying to live & enjoy ourselves at the same time…even the comparisons at work or the competition in those environments can put significant wear & tear on the soul. Escaping all that is the dream…to “Travel With The Tide” and set forth to something that means so much more, wherever and whatever that may be…that’s what this song is ultimately about…at least I think it is…and if that is indeed the case, then yessir, I relate to that. Lindsay is a perfect fit with Adam’s vocals…she might make the one appearance here on this record, but a collaboration as well-suited like this certainly deserves an encore – I’d keep my ears open for this pairing to show up in the future again at some point in time for sure. All-in-all, everything about “Travel With The Tide” felt like this would be the song on this album most likely to be universally loved by everyone listening…the melody of this tune sparkles & shines in the performance you’ll hear.
It definitely felt like he found the right way to approach the end of Stories Of Another Time to finish this album on one last strong song in this acoustic-based setting he’s been rockin.’ For the most-part, I’d probably give the man the majority of the credit for the way he sings it, the writing, and the execution of the chorus on “Don’t Get Stranded”…I think these are massively effective aspects of this last song and the very reasons the melody will continue to haunt your thoughts long after it’s stopped playing. Guitar-wise, I won’t lie to ya, I had my moments here & there wrestling with what was a much more simple, straightforward, and fairly aggressively played subtle sound…at times it was bang-on right what I was looking for, and at others you can hear the passion consume Adam and perhaps push him a bit harder into the melody of the music than it might call for. It might just be that I wanted to hear his voice as the dominant part of this song for the way he’s singing it so perfectly, and maybe the guitar was just a little high up in the mix at times. OR…and I’m just playing the devil’s advocate here in my own review – maybe that was the perfect was to go about it all…I could fully understand that there would be people out there that would get onboard with the added edge in this song…because Adam really is making some of the record’s biggest points within his metaphors here, and the punch in the way he plays this song is an indication of the urgency & importance he’s placing behind his words. Call it musical conviction if ya will – maybe it’s aggressive to some, but maybe it’s right in-line for others…the bottom line is you can really hear that Naylor’s throwing himself right into the moment as well – and there’s always value in that for us as listeners, every bit as much as for himself as an artist. All that being said, I’d also wager a bet that a song like “Don’t Get Stranded,” coupled with the space & pace of a song like he took towards “My Fiction Department,” could very well reveal a whole new side of this last tune that might give it the softer edge the melody might have been calling for. But again…I ain’t complaining, I’m just callin’ it like I hear it, he’s done a great job with this set of songs; that’s my story and I’m sticking to it. As for Adam Naylor’s Stories Of Another Time – that another time comes May 22nd when the record gets officially released everywhere online – so be ready! Make sure you’re the first to know when it’s out by heading on over to his official page at Facebook here: https://www.facebook.com/adamzpnaylor