Smooth jazzy overtones abound as Bluebird begins to introduce Fred’s House in their latest release. A light and inoffensive chorus provides a catchy singalong before the song gives way to a dramatically heavier finish. I remember liking the band live at the Festival of Folk last year, despite only catching the first half of their set before running of to play my own, and Shut Up & Dance brings some of the same upbeat jumpiness they exhibited there into their studio recording. The calmer verses compliment the simple vocal harmonies between Gavin and Jameson well; as it should for the songwriting duo behind the group’s catchy upbeat songs.
Fire comes in with more of a country blend over the poppy accompaniment, and Gavin’s vocals rasp comfortably with American influences through the very singable choruses. For me, the song blends a little too uncomfortably close with its predecessor, but the following Earthquake opens to a different tune, with its slower piano playing fading into a familiar chord sequence as the track progresses. The fourth song is light and subtle, but the string section included in the background resonates well, and it’s my favourite one so far as Gavin begins to exhibit the power behind the higher parts of her vocal range. Jameson’s vocal tune of She Says descends gradually in the chorus, making it an interesting blend contrasting the earlier upbeat flavours, and another memorable track on the album.
By the time of Goodbye Sweet City, although the song is nice, it does begin to feel as if the band is in danger of repeating themselves. The song is easily a catchy one, like most of the others, with plenty of room for dancing in the 4/4 time signature, but after half an hour of similarly sounding songs it does make one wonder what else they can do. I remember California For A Girl from seeing them live; the country lament to previous bandmate comes across as one of the more honest and sincere songs from the collection, and not just because they allude to the writing process behind it in the sleeve notes. I found myself subconsciously singing along to the chorus by the end, before Ghost Town bursts back into the earlier elements of jazz and swing.
The ninth track is the biggest foot-stomper so far on the album, and having already heard the chorus twice at the ninety second mark I can say the band would do well at somewhere like Glastonbury. The guitar bends fade in an almost surf-like style before the interlude, which is sure to get audiences chanting along. You don’t even have to see the band live to know that it’s a song that belongs right at the end of the set, with the audience out of their seats and clapping along. After it, Face In The Water seems like a little bit of an anti-climax. We Don’t Talk Anymore enters melodically, and the mellow harmonica and organ combination is welcome, but my ears still want to hear more of Ghost Town – as the standout track so unlike the two following it. Perhaps it was misplaced as the ninth track; an album closer would have made it a much more firm finish than Another Universe, which is still, admittedly, the my favourite of the final three.
The album as a whole is about as inoffensive and radio-friendly as you can get, which is not necessarily a bad thing for the country-pop quintet. Personally, I would have liked to hear more variation in the keys and time signatures over the whole album, and it isn’t quite as roots-y as most of the albums heard by Artree. Does that make it a bland album? Of course not: Fred’s House do their job and they do it well. The songs provided are catchy, and easy to join in with. The vocals dominate the whole album as leading the rest of the band, with the harmonies of Gavin and Jameson bouncing well off each other all the way into the piano solo that concludes Another Universe. There are clear favourites, obviously written with the audience in mind, which makes Faultlines a pleasant one to listen to, from a band who seem to be delighting audiences wherever they play.
For more info: http://fredshousemusic.co.uk/
Faultlines is out in May 2016
Review by Simon James Chisholm