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Luke Ritchie – The Water’s Edge (Review)

Luke Ritchie, The Water's Edge

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

LUKE Ritchie may instantly garner comparisons with the likes of Newton Faulkner and Ben Howard, as well as a certain Peter Gabriel at times, but these are only a good thing.

And besides, Ritchie also has enough in his armoury to use them to his own advantage, rise above them and emerge as a distinct artist in his own right.

Hence, The Water’s Edge comes recommended as the type of album that marks the arrival of a significant new singer-songwriter talent, who deserves to find massive success, especially when considering the hard graft put into realising the songs contained within, which are diverse enough to show he has exceptional range too.

The origins of the album stem from 2010, when Ritchie set himself the challenge of writing a song a week for six months.

Between January and July, he composed 26 songs, recorded them at home on acoustic guitar and posted them online as podcasts. By the time the experiment was over, through word of mouth alone, the songs had been downloaded 8,500 times and Ritchie was ready to pick the best for an album he planned to put out himself.

Ironically, he still had to bide his time though. Before they reached the studio, the songs had found fans in globally acclaimed arranger Nico Muhly (Bjork, Anthony & The Johnsons, Grizzly Bear) and award-winning producer Paul Savage (Franz Ferdinand, Arab Strap, Mogwai), the former of whom composed and recorded string parts for five of the tracks, and the latter who produced the entire album over two snowy weeks in Scotland.

The results led to a deal signed late last year with Angel Falls Records, a label founded by Venezuelan entrepreneur Rodrigo Marquez and distributed by Proper Music, home to artists including Robyn Hitchcock, Dr John and Richard Thompson, whom Ritchie recalls on a couple of his folkier songs.

But Ritchie is keen to play down any notion this is regular folk fare, saying: “I didn’t want to make a soft, samey album. I’m not a soft singer. I grew up on Led Zeppelin, Soundgarden and grunge, as well as people like Paul Simon and Sam Cooke. I like dynamic singers and powerful songs – and you can get a lot of power from acoustic instruments.

“I contacted Paul because of the music he’s made with King Creosote and Arab Strap. He’s a drummer and he’s brilliant at getting big drum sounds without veering in to power rock.”

Hence, the album comes alive at several points to throw off any ‘yet another folk singer’ shackles.

These include the rabble-rousing crowd-pleaser Lonely Second, which has a real kick and party flavour to it, and the intricately layered, banjo-led Butterfly, which soars throughout and which delivers arguably the best chorus on the LP (complete with positive Peter Gabriel comparisons).

Former singleCover It Up also contains the harder sound Ritchie was alluding to, with the guitars taking on a meatier disposition that tips a very slight hat to the singer’s rock roots. But the acoustic sound is also reminiscent of classic Newton Faulkner. It’s another highlight.

There are reservations… for an artist keen to not become pigeon-holed in the folk bracket too tightly, Ritchie’s choice of album opener is a curious one, for while good The Lighthouse is a very brooding, slow burning start that offers a curious introduction. A track with a little more zip may have been a better choice.

For when Ritchie does slow down the tempo at various points, strip things back to acoustic and relies more resolutely on classic folk values, there are some amazing moments too, not least of which is the impassioned, heart-on-sleeve Words, which really does demonstrate both the power of Ritchie’s song-writing and his vocals.

Likewise, Northern Lights has an easy-going vibe that’s reminiscent of both classic Art Garfunkel and more contemporary Joshua Radin, while there’s a strangely hypnotic beauty to the haunted Right Then And There.

Song To Sundays, meanwhile, brings the album to a close with a breezy slice of toe-tapping acoustic folk that ends things on a bright, positive, even relaxed note, while underlining once more the beauty of Ritchie’s song-writing.

All told, he’s an artist with a very big and bright future ahead of him and The Water’s Edge is well worth dipping your toe in.

Download picks: Cover It Up, Words, Butterfly, Northern Lights, Song to Sundays

Track listing:

  1. The Lighthouse
  2. Shanty
  3. Off Your Guard
  4. Cover It Up
  5. Words
  6. Butterfly
  7. Northern Lights
  8. Lonely Second
  9. Looking Glass
  10. Right Then and There
  11. Song to Sundays