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BBC – Music – Review of Christopher Rees

Written by on October 19, 2020

A recording studio in Cardiff is, it must be said, a ways away from a lonely cowboy bar in the Deep South. But not in Christopher Rees’ head.

Stand Fast, the Welsh singer-songwriter’s sixth album, is awash with the dusty wanderings, misunderstood loners and strengths in the face of adversity so common to the country spirit.

Moreover, since all this is done to the tune of banjo, harmonica and twanged guitars, this album is a no-holds-barred embrace of music almost totally associated with the other side of the Atlantic.

Such a wholesale jump into Americana dices with cheap impersonation. Thankfully, Rees is too intelligent, skilled and self-aware to let that happen.

Rees doesn’t ape any one country-influenced artist; there’s a Golden Smog power-pop twinge here, a Wanda Jackson rockabilly bluster there, all flavoured with the spice of Tom Waits-esque whiskey wisdom.

This works especially well on Sing Out Loud and I Heard You Call My Name. However, his favourite themes of resilience and boldness get a little repetitive by Fighting Time; there are only so many times straightforward I-Will-Survive toughness can be recycled on one album.

Fortunately, Rees is charming enough elsewhere to forgive him a few filler tracks – and it’s fascinating when he allows a little of his own background into the mix. Alright Squires, the opener and first single, is a tribute to his fellow Welsh singer Dorothy Squires.

Although she wasn’t known for her radical takes on popular song, Squires was quite the firebrand in real life, and Alright Squires is as feisty and wilful as she. Similarly, the languid trumpet on Knock on My Door adds a charming British honk to the saloon musings of the lyrics.

Stand Fast doesn’t have much darkness or complexity to it; Rees is not a Will Oldham or a Gillian Welch. Yet there’s an appeal in the simple and direct, too.

Being told that it’s right not to give up, however much that may hurt, and however uncertain the outcome may be, is a valid, heartfelt sentiment to hear every now and then.

At these times, Christopher Rees has your back.

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