Friday, 11 January 2019

Al Stewart - Zero She Flies (1970)


Released April 1970

This was Al Stewart's third album and, like the second one, it was very much a folk album, telling narrative tales, often autobiographical, romantic, but also observational, social and, for the first time, historical. The backing was a gentle, bassy folk rock sound, which was subtle and melodic. A couple of members of folk group Fotheringay played on the album. If anything, though, it was less rock and far more folky than "Love Chronicles" had been. It also features three somewhat unfinished-sounding tracks. In that respect, as a complete album, it never quite gets there.


1. My Enemies Have Sweet Voices
2. A Small Fruit Song
3. Gethsemane, Again
4. Burbling
5. Electric Los Angeles Sunset
6. Manuscript
7. Black Hill
8. Anna
9. Room Of Roots
10. Zero She Flies                                    

"My Enemies Have Sweet Voices" is actually a bit of a different-sounding opener, having a quirky staccato beat and lots of blues harmonica and Hammond organ. It is as bluesy as Stewart has got thus far. "Small Fruit Song" is a short acoustic guitar-dominated virtual instrumental, with one pretty pointless verse at the end. "Gethsemane, Again" is more like the sort of folky, narrative material from the previous album. Again, it is acoustically-backed. The soft rock sound has yet to make an appearance. "Burbling" is a finger-picking instrumental that continues the low-key beginning to the album. The rock finally arrives on the bassy and catchy "Electric Los Angeles Sunset" as Stewart sings of the underbelly of Los Angeles urban life , something that is slightly at odds with the rathe pastoral ambience we have had so far. It has vague airs of Chris De Burgh about it in its vocal delivery. It stands out as one of the album's best songs.

"Manuscript" contains historical references that wander here and there, but include the outbreak of World War 1. It also relates feelings from Stewart's childhood. Musically, it is an acoustic and bass backed melody with a late sixties/early seventies David Bowie style vocal. "Black Hill" is another short, "semi-song", with acoustic instrumental followed by one short verse. "Anna" is a plaintive acoustic and vocal short number, while "Room Of Roots" is an intricate slice of acoustic dexterity. This time it is fully instrumental. The title track, "Zero She Flies" is a more solid, electric guitar and rock drums backed and full of beguiling lyrics. It is up there with "Electric Los Angeles Sunset". It is a shame there weren't more cuts like this on here. There is some excellent electric guitar on the track.

With the presence of three extremely short, under-developed numbers, one cannot help but feel this album is somewhat undercooked and not quite the finished article. I find its predecessor by far the more impressive product. This album leaves me feeling just slightly underwhelmed.


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