This is the Brian Houston record that I have been waiting on for thirty years. Oh I have loved almost everything he has released. You cannot not love Houston’s song smithery and passion for his craft.
Yet Brian Houston, an eponymous record in its White Album style cover signalling that minimalism that I have yearned. This is an almost guitar only record. These are songs, some quite an age, stripped back to the raw. Without the frills and with discipline in the production from producer with his owns studio to not clutter the genius with bells and whistles.
This is how I used to hear and love Brian when he came annually to the first concert of the new student year at Derryvolgie Hall when I was Chaplain or when I had him all to myself across the desk in the BBC when I was doing my Rhythm and Soul radio show. Yes! I have waited that long.
Without the production and other instrumentation we get the fullness of Houston’s vocal inflections that shift emotions sometimes subtly and at other times with dramatic effect.
Brian Houston’s songwriting is so under estimated. I have not understood for years and years why he is not courted by Nashvile’s songwriting factory. This collection of old and new songs has a wonderful range. He knows how to write a love song but then there is a justice song for the native people of Northern Ontario in Spanish and the mature and honest If which has that honest prayerful wrestling that would sit neatly on a Mary Gauthier record.
Those last two songs along with Angel, a kind of Belfast local Piano Man or Killing me Softly With His Song, are my favourites here but then there is Kisses At The Door that has always been a favourite of mine. It re-centres me in my vocational call:
“And the parsons planting kisses on the babies at the door
And I’m wondering why I bothered and what I came here for
I’m absolutely broken with no tears of mine to cry
Saying prayers for those in prison and for those afraid to die”
Also… Ivory Tower, a single from last year, produced by the young up and coming Sam Wickens, is another with nuggets of wisdom worth attention. I particular resonated in ecclesiological terms with:
When truth beats love
In the fight for power
How’s life in your ivory tower.
As I say, an underrated songwriter, at the peak of his game, setting his songs in less so that more can shine through. Play it on vinyl and you feel he is right there in the room. Volume 2 please!
Brian Houston launches the record at The Empire on September 29th - https://www.ticketmaster.ie/brian-houston-belfast-29-09-2022/event/38005CE1AC170A35