Sunjay Brayne has to be one of the coolest guys in the West Midlands and his boyish and clean-cut good looks belie the gritty blues he can play so fluently, however, on his latest and eponymous album he has chosen to keep this side of his repertoire on a fairly tight leash.
|Sunjay Brayne courtesy of Charlie Barker|
Brayne has the distinctive look of a young Jake Thackray and has a sound which reminds quite a bit of the great Ralph McTell but is really all his own.
Brayne's voice is as smooth and easy as his stage manner and his opener, London Road, could almost be Streets of London Part II, it doesn't have the poignancy of McTell's track but the execution is as good as anything the great man himself would have produced.
London Road has a jugband feel about it too but it's more refined and as an added bonus you get the gem of Dan Walsh on banjo.
The blues rears its head with Brayne's own interpretation of, Drop Down Mama which comes complete with rasping gobiron and his caramel voice pushing the lyrics along keeping the mood light. This is one of the occasions when Brayne's clean cut image starts to crack and he allows the sleazier side of the blues to ooze out but not too much. Going Down the Road is a pure delight to listen to, this is where Katriona Gilmore adds a lovely undertone with her fiddle playing. Brayne's simple rocking horse rhythm on his guitar intertwines beautifully with Walsh's simple banjo picking.
Guitar is Braynes specialty and you can hear his skill on the strings from the opening bars of Mark Knopfler's Sailing to Philadelphia. His stripped back singing somehow gives the track a deeper emotion which is given colour by Sarah Smout with the occasional cello insert.
Made famous by The Walker Brothers, No Regrets is obviously a favourite of Brayne's. His version is a perfect showcase for his smooth balladeer skills and the mixture of the instruments create a pretty emotional whole.
The much covered You Don't Mess Around With Jim, from Jim Croce, is given the Brayne treatment and while you expect this to be a much dirtier blues song he puts a real polish on it. It's still pushed along with that famous 12-bar beat but Brayne gives it a much slicker treatment and the harmonica gives it that authentic blues sound.
The following track is where Brayne sounds more like McTell than any other song on the album. Close Your Eyes is a lovely, haunting and soft ballad. It shows how emotionally gentle and subtle Brayne's voice can be.
It has to be said when you choose to put your own slant on an anthem as well known as Sittin' On Top of the World you are taking a risk.
It is one of those which you can either get it right and end up with something which is really cool or you can end up with a pig's ear. Fortunately Brayne has the voice and guitar skills to nail it.
|The new album from Sunjay Brayne|
Unfortunately, the final track is the slug in the lettuce.
The style of A Folk Singer Earns Every Dime just doesn't work.
It feels like a musical version of a cut and shut where differing styles have been forced together. Brayne does the main lyrics in that faux American accent so many singers adopt and which does falter on the odd phrase.
It is sung a cappella with a single clap rhythm and a vocal incidental which is in a kind of generic northern accent.
Regrettably the track sits like a piece of gravel among a pile of diamonds.
However, this shouldn't detract from the fact that this is a damn cool album from a damn cool artist. When Brayne sings the blues with his smooth and easy style, he gives them a refined edge without taking away anything of the mojo.
The tour for Sunjay was launched at the recent Shrewsbury Folk Festival and the album is officially released on September 29.
Sunjay Brayne will also be playing around the Midlands throughout 2014. On September 19 he is at the Woodman Folk Club in Stourbridge and then on 25th at his own club Stourbridge Folk Club with Phil Beer the following night, 26th, he is playing at Tamworth Folk Club. On October 2 he will be at The Robin2 in Bilston, Wolverhampton supporting John Illsley and then on the 5th he will heading back to his birthplace to play at Derby Folk Festival. He is back in Wolverhampton at the Newhampton Folk Club on October 11 with Eddy Morton then on the 23rd he plays the Common Folk Club in Walsall with The Crystals. Then on November 27 he is back on his home turf at Stourbridge Folk Club in the cellar of Katie Fitzgerald's with Dan Owen.
|The Mike Harding Folk Show|