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Normal For Bridgwater
Peter Bruntnell
El-Camel's Ratings:

Slow River Records
michael white


For those of you who knew he was there in the first place – mainly a disparate group of assorted, enchanted critics and a hard core of equally bewitched fans – Peter Bruntnell is back. He’s got a new American-based label, his own band, and boasts a new direction – if boasting is the right word for someone who has always seemed to assume a low-key presence that’s in direct opposition to his talent. It is here that bewitched turns easily to bewilderment. Understated… underrated: a familiar story.

Leaving behind the intriguing overtones of last album – Camelot In Smithereens – and its dalliance with Britpop; Bruntnell has saddled up and moved on out to the now less than green pastures of alternative country. A strange move?… Not when you examine the enduring themes of country: love, regret, intimacy, loneliness; the poetry of the everyday – and their direct parallel with the nitty-gritty of his work. Different background scenes: same vehicle.

Title track ‘N.F.B.’ is a paean to small town life that - through a litany of the privations and personal confusions - invokes a kind of quiet desperation. Its meandering lilt is perfectly enhanced by the pedal steel talents of Son Volt’s Eric Heywood.

Grafting the anthemic qualities of traditional country on to his power pop base has produced a distinctly frisky British crossbreed. This is particularly true of ‘You Won’t Find Me’ with its crunchy, clean-cut guitar chords and memorable smooth harmonies. Taking this combined approach to its logical conclusion here is the riff-tastic, rock-on-the-hoof of ‘Lay Down This Curse’ which in its combative propulsion inspires comparison to Wilco; and further down the old trail – The Long Ryders.

Cosmea’ is fiddle-driven, campfire strum-a-long conjuring up a measure of backwoods pseudo-religious authenticity. This thread is literally picked up again on the frontier banjo twang of ‘How You Are.’ The big guitar of ‘Shot From A Spring’ fuels wide-angle, panoramic vistas which contrast pointedly with the attendant minutiae of Bruntnell’s typical lyric concerns: ‘Outlaw (May The Sun Always Shine)’ is a ride into the downhome anthem territory again.

For sure, the musical motifs are predominantly American however, the wistful sensitivity displayed by his vocals along with the sometimes acutely awkward inflexions toward confessionals is a very English affair. There are still small discernible strands of Elvis Costello in the quieter moments but a new assurance sees this now stretching out toward American vocalists of the country genre: touching Charlie Chesterman’s wry tone, Jeff Tweedy’s assured instinct and Gram Parson’s bruised fragility.

Slow River Records is the name of his new label and is a fair description of the passage of his career up to now. From Somerset, via south London; fetched up by Boston’s Charles River – a lot of water has flowed under the bridge. Peter Bruntnell has eluded many in the past and despite his cries of ‘You Won’t Find Me’ – perhaps, most importantly he has had to find himself first. Remember… it’s the quiet ones you’ve got to watch.

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