Lark Album Reviews

each and every second of melancholy and frustration that he has felt whilst producing this album has well and truly paid off

"The first time I listened to Steve and the Lark's album, I was travelling on a train. At that point, I had owned the album for a few weeks, but I waited to listen to it on this particular journey as it resembled the ambition in my life in the same way that the album resembled the ambition in Steve's life. Steve has dedicated his entire life to music: some of you may know him as the keyboard player in Solstice; some of you may remember him as a mentor, encouraging and supporting you and your musical talent. This album is shows us, the audience, the side of Steve that we often forget: songwriter Steve.

There is something ever so encouraging and refreshing about this album, something that reminds us of the reality of music and its ability to become an emotional outlet to the musician and the listener. When I began to listen to it, an overpowering feeling came over me: in my hands was a man's lifework; his definition and ultimate perspective of life. This album has taken Steve 25 years to create and he has pulled out all of the stops to create perfection; from calling on old friends to help him to setting up his own record label. I can safely say that each and every second of melancholy and frustration that he has felt whilst producing this album has well and truly paid off.

Songs To Listen Out For:

'Today's the day': This is not only my favourite song on the album but it is one of my favourite songs in general; I can't listen to it without instantly feeling inspired and enlightened by not only the message of the song but the way that it has been represented in the music. I am most inspired by the way that Steve introduces new wind and string synth sounds as the song progresses; it gives the impression that the music is unlimited. Also, the lyrical simplicity and addictive melody represents the simplicity of the message itself; "Today's going to be a beautiful day."

'Sweating Cold Minestrone': This is very contrasting to 'Today's the day'; it's jazzy and you will dance in some way or another to it, trust me. The versatility and professional musicianship of the band really shines through on this track; they're tight and precisely articulate throughout. I completely guarentee that you will be singing "sweating cold minestrone" but my absolute favourite lyric of this song is: "you've got the devil in your soup".

'Moments': Accompanied by Katie Buckhaven on vocals, Steve has taken advantage of the two completely contrasting voices by writing the vocals in unison. Steve has also stripped down the instrumentation with only keys and vocals. 'Moments' is a delicate number to be listened to when in need of a lullaby or some form of relaxation.

'Blue Stone Lane': This song is beautifully tragic; lyrically, musically and in context. The lyrics were written by Anna Driscoll and dedicated to Steve; devastatingly, she passed away a few years later. Steve has taken these lyrics and accompanied them with music. The music itself has a slow tempo and consists of only keys of which follows the lyrical melody line. 'Blue Stone Lane' is the treasure of this album; not only is it ornate in its own musical right but it holds the heart of this album as a masterpiece of Steve's life; his sorrowful memories as well as his perspectives."

Philippa Moyle 28/12/2009

Lark really is a masterpiece. A body of work that nourishes the soul with every intent that it was written

"Steve McDaniel: The first time I heard his name was way back in the early nineties. The music scene in Milton Keynes was fairly vibrant with a good selection of cover bands and original acts and people started batting his name around as a good keyboard player to get!

The first time I met Steve (and Tim the drummer) was probably about 2003 at an audition, a local songwriter was putting some people together and Steve just happened to be there and ‘sat’ in! He played and right then I thought, shit, he’s good. That’s the thing with Steve, he is good but never makes you feel inadequate. He is so encouraging and has spent much of his own time working and teaching young people.

I wouldn’t profess to know Steve well but he has played on a few of the projects I am involved with and he never fails to inspire me and yet at the same time amuse me with his eccentricity and his constant questioning of the emotional content of the song that allows him to ‘get it’ which I must add, he usually does! So recently I needed Steve’s services again, there was no question of going to someone else, for me Steve just gets it. He’s one of those very talented players that are in so many towns across the UK that just never get the major label break that they so deserve and just scrapes a living doing what they love to do. During the evening Steve asked me to listen to his long awaited album and give it an honest critique when I had time. So here I am, listening intently and trying my best to give every track an honest say.

I hope not to cause offence but have included somewhere in each track review the name of an artist that the track reminds ‘me’ of. This in no way means ‘oh it sounds like’. This is just my own opinion and where I can kind of imagine that particular artist performing that track.

This whole recording has it’s own uniqueness and is recorded astoundingly well and complimented by curious artwork. It is after all, 25 years in the making and no doubt several influences as they do, may have inspired Steve to write some of these compositions in this or that particular fashion. This Critique is totally unbiased. I love music, feel music and have spent half my life chasing it to be a better musician myself and so in that I hope it’s honest and just.

Lark: Lark really is a masterpiece. A body of work that nourishes the soul with every intent that it was written. Steve McDaniel has set the bar very high here. Graceful vocal at times, infact I didn’t know he sang that well! Moving, emotional and heartfelt tracks, bluesy clav funk and wonderful compositions are the order of the day here.

Lark really does take you on a mystical journey through music, sit back, relax and let Lark move you as it did me. Steve, very enjoyable, so when’s the next one??

Track 1: Hard Life

The track opens with a great drum riff, funk clav and Hammond, a four count and into a very groovy intro. Steve hit’s us with a very accented vocal with stunning backing harmonies, great bass line, lovely Rhodes leading to a very ‘Al Jarreau’ middle eight.

Track 2:Inner Voice

Guy’s blues bass riff starts us of as we are led into a real ‘Donald Fagen’ jazz laced chord structure, again showing Steve’s ability to change genre at a snip. The track dribbles a very cool but lush synth part through sections and yet carries us back to that bass riff again. Tim’s understated drum patterns just make this track skip wonderfully. A class track through and through.

Track 3: Since you’ve been around

Opens with a Paul Simon esque drum riff, a beautiful Brazilian rhythm on bass and so the story is told, of one mans emotional state in the grip of love. Lovely rich backing harmonies fill this wonderful composition with Steve showing his ability on Piano shining through and changing tempo at a whim. You can’t help but feel the warmth of Steve’s personality shining out of this track; you can’t fail to like him, opening on song his inner feelings.

Track 4: River Runs Dry

Ha, Clav Funk again, Stereo MC’s with an essence of the glorious acid jazz of Galliano. Guy and Tim take centre stage here, with a nice tight slap bass line and offbeat snare’s. Steve opted for a different vocal sound here and compliments this track, so, so well. Edgy and topical taking the ecological content to the masses with this commercial track.

Track 5: Fly

Here the gospel flavour of 88 keys soaks us to the bone. A wonderful song that leaves you constantly humming that little chromatic run down on the wonderfully held vocal of fly. God I really like this track, as I sit here trying to review it I am lost for words the more I here it. Aretha Franklin/ Mary J Blige would love the chance to sing this of that I have no doubt.

Track 6: A True Professional

Jamie Cullum. A Smokey track, upright bass and outstanding jazz feel. Masterful production here adds to the atmosphere of this heartfelt track, I love Steve’s “I haven’t got time for this” attitude on his lyrical content, at least that’s my interpretation of the story. His Social workers can try lyric LOL!

Track 7: Beautiful Places

folk infused rhythm drives this track along and surprisingly nestles itself between a more identifiable run of tracks. Very powerful and hypnotic track that sometimes leaves the listener a little lost in the woods.

Track 8: Watching that girl

I can imagine this as a bigger production with an orchestra and Billy Joel singing. Steve has managed to capture our imaginations with this last track on CD1. A very catchy chorus runs us down through hidden thoughts about a past love , and the possibilities of finding a new. A great choice of sounds used here with Tim’s powerful drums cutting through the mix backed with nice string arrangements.

CD2

Track 1: Blue Stone Lane

I could settle with simply wow! For me the most moving track on the album, Bonnie Raitt couldn’t have written it better if she had have. Steve McDaniel’s most emotional outpouring here on this track, wonderfully recorded. Lovely track.

Track 2: Love

No comparisons here, McDaniel through and through, lazy bass laced with Hammond lovely guitar arpeggios and soulful backing vocals. Simple, tasteful, and creative. Great solo middle eight…….At this point you may be asking if I am going to dislike a track here, well seven more to go yet!

Track 3: Sweating Cold Minestrone

Oo er Miss’s. Steve’s slightly eccentric taste shining through here, I reckon the Blockheads would love this track, unfortunately not for me, interesting palette of sounds though and listenable lyrical content however bizarre.

Track 4: La Passionara

Presland and McDaniel team up again now they have stopped sweating soup! A much more mature take and I can’t believe how Steve’s vocal tone has got such a deepness and rather Bowie like warmth. The Snare is fantastic on this soundscape, infact this track really show’s Tim Heymerdinger’s feel for percussion. A lovely ballad.

Track 5: Giromancing

How can a track with such a great title fail to impress. A latin feel again takes centre stage here with that slippery bass riff and Steve’s often Cockney phrasing making this track fun and interesting arrangements with lots of percussive stabs and fantastic drum fills from Tim rattling on the snare, and yes she was YTS.

Track 6: Lark

This track could easily sit comfortably on a Paddy McAloon album. Focusing on Lark, the title track. Politically charged lyrics about what seems to be the break up of Yugoslavia and the events of Milosevic’s life, Socialist Presidency and death. Maybe I am reading too much into it. None the less a great track.

Track 7: Education

Fantastically lyrical offering the values of education. Very Stage musical as I can see this being performed, wow what an idea eh, Education… the Musical. Exciting playing on this one, shuffled drums, tight bass and interesting orchestration sitting behind the keys.

Track 8: Today’s the day

A classic song with notes of the best song writing we have all grown up with, this is one of those songs you could hear Halifax or Marks & Spencer adopting. You can’t help singing along with the infectious chorus, something so comfortable about this track settles and soothes you. Well done guy’s a belter.

Track 9: Moments

Beautiful haunting vocal from Katie Buckhaven, a wonderful collaboration and emotionally charged performance. Steve’s gentleness on piano guides us through an almost lullaby like track, a fitting end to this album.

Hat off to you Steve McDaniel……… LEGEND."

Dan Baylis 25/01/2010