By BRUCE DENNILL
Ian Fletcher Thornley: Secrets
Having been recently introduced to South African audiences as the voice of Canadian rock band Big Wreck, Ian Thornley has since developed an extra name and a solo career, with this 13-track offering featuring drummer Glenn Milchem and bassist Dave McMillan as a foundation for Thornley’s expanded guitar palette and ardent rock vocals.
Given a different songwriting context to explore, Thornley opens all the taps, opening with the rootsy, jangly stomper How Long before channelling peak-era Peter Gabriel – another assiduous writer and performer who neither writes for a commercial audience nor settles for a simple arrangement when a distinctive, layered one would do – on the poignant Frozen Pond. A simpler feel is carried through into Feel, introduced with an instrumental drone and embellished with a wonderfully thick, enveloping bass sound.
Stay wanders into less melancholic territory musically and yet still only suggests “happy” in the way that Radiohead might present such an emotion; conditionally, but with moments of ecstasy – as in the fantastic, chord-on-every-beat bridge. Just To Know I Can is probably the first song on the collection that musicians listening to to the album might feel they can reasonably have a stab at playing reasonably easily. His picking patterns are not terribly simple, but otherwise the structure of the song is arguably the most accessible on the album.
Unsurprisingly for a musician who trades, for the most part, in monumental guitar riffs and grittily powerful vocals, some Led Zeppelin influence leaks through in Fool, a mesmerising, cyclical piece that lacks some of the hooks of the songs around it, but is still compelling. Outside The Line then hones in on the acoustic sound that Thornley reportedly considered for the collection as a whole, the song propelled by a delightful picking pattern that slowly, tastefully has strums and complementary licks added to it.
It must be said at some point that producer Mark Howard deserves a great deal of credit here – though the vision is clearly Thornley’s, the near-live recording and the atmospheric mixes Howard helms make the music as good as it possibly can be.
Elouise is perhaps the most obvious nod to Thornley’s Big Wreck work, though it’s more of a tone thing than being in any way derivative. There’s more Jimmy Page in the trebly folk strum that kicks off On My Way, which sounds deceptively simple until you take into account the concurrent acoustic guitar and ukulele strumming patterns, which also recall a Dave Matthews Band-esque mix of chops and user-friendliness.
Stop And Think is empty and, er, thoughtful, carried by some sublime slide guitar and a emotional vocal take, washed in reverb. The title track has as its lead instrument a forcefully-strummed mandolin and a melody line that wanders from minor to major notes and up into falsetto accents in a beguiling, catchy way.
All Along (For Sophia) is all quiet, heartfelt ballad until a late guitar solo in which Thornley, among other things, manages to make a single note do the work of a dozen elsewhere, before Blown Wide Open, a reworking of an old Big Wreck song proves a few things: Thornley is a consistently great songwriter; his songs have staying power (the original version of this one was released in 1997); and he remains connected – and committed – to his band.
This solo album, though, has just moved the standard up a notch. If he is to attain such heights again with any outfit, he’ll do exceptionally well.
- How Long 8.25
- Frozen Pond 8.50
- Feel 8.50
- Stay 8.25
- Just To Know I Can 8.00
- Fool 7.00
- Outside The Line 8.00
- Elouise 8.00
- On My Way 7.75
- Stop And Think 7.75
- Secrets 8.50
- All Along (For Sophia) 8.00
- Blown Wide Open 7.75