Black Swan Lane – A long way from home
I will confess that I knew very little about Jack Sobel and his band The Messengers before his latest Black Swan Lane incarnation. Perhaps that was the whole point of the exercise? An ensemble project and one which might hopefully raise the profile of some very interesting musicians. Who knows? As it happens, regardless of the initial objective, Sobel and friends have crafted a very agreeable record indeed. Plus they clearly had some fun along the way.
So who are Black Swan Lane? Two Messengers, Sobel and John Kolbeck – former Chameleon (UK) front man Mark Burgess, long time associates Yves Altana, Kwasi Asante and Achim Faber plus Anna-Lynne Williams of Trespassers William. As I understand it the project came about after the last Burgess concert in Atlanta. Gigs were gigged, jams were fruitful and loose ideas crystalised into these session recordings. The gentle, airy melodic pieces that form ‘A long way from home’ deserved to be called compendium pieces rather than album tracks. This is a fans treat.
As you might expect from the various Chameleon-related associations the guitars here are suitably chiming. For the main part, Sobel and Burgess share the vocal duties. Burgess throws in plenty of his trademark ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’, his lyrics perhaps typically more mystical and dreamy than Sobels internalized reflections. On A long way from home, Sobel plays the within to Burgess’s without.
For my money the album does not quite hit its stride until third track ‘Second Soul’. (Quite acceptable on a 21 track, 79 minute offering). For the lions share the record sounds like a mixture of Burgess’s post Chameleons work (Sun and The Moon, Invincible, Sons of God etc) and early Bella Union artist The Wave Room (and previous incarnation Fuel). That said ‘She’s in love’ brings to mind Travis’s Driftwood and Oasis’ Wonderwall.
After the Tresspassers-vocalled ‘Fakers’ there then follows a sequence of impossibly lovely, playful pieces through ‘Cool Motherfucker’ and beyond toward ‘Nothing’, the Sobel penned album climax. Kwasi Asante is in particularly fine vocal form toasting on ‘The Bird’ and singing quite beautifully on ‘Ghana’.
Intermittently sensitive and fun this is record full of wonder. Fans of Felt, Comsat Angels or even Cocteau Twins might wish to investigate Black Swan Lane. Those that know any of the bands mentioned earlier shouldn’t (and probably won’t) hesitate. I admit it is difficult for me to remain objective about Black Swan Lane. It feels really tailored to my tastes. Just know that ‘A long way from home’ isn’t really like any conventional record. The effect is more akin to stumbling upon a private soundcheck and being allowed to remain and listen. It’s personal. It’s a gift.