Harry Stafford - Guitar Shaped Hammers - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Harry Stafford - Guitar Shaped Hammers

by Kevin Orton Rating:10 Release Date:2018-01-18
Harry Stafford - Guitar Shaped Hammers
Harry Stafford - Guitar Shaped Hammers

Harry Stafford is best known as the front man for the 80’s Manchester post punk band, Inca Babies. A Molotov cocktail of Link Wray, Cramps, Birthday Party and Gun Club. All of which sells them short. They burnt the candle at both ends proclaiming the joys of opium dens, femme fatale mercenaries and mutants. Stafford’s latest offering is a departure in many ways. Yet also, right in keeping with what Inca Baby fans clamor for. Instead of his customary guitar, Stafford makes the switch to an instrument he has less experience with: the piano. The result is, Guitar Shaped Hammers. A work of dark, spare beauty. Stafford’s expressive baritone, formidable melodies and brooding lyrics taking center stage.

Things kick off with the doomy, yet catchy, ‘Make Me Almighty.’ “Make me the tempest and I’ll blow your world down, make me the sun and I’ll parch the oceans,” Stafford intones. What a hello. All going to show, despite laying knuckle to the elephant teeth, Stafford has no intention of pulling any punches. Soon after we’re driving through the darkness to the ‘Glass Coast’.  A dark night of the soul with “a broken meth angel”. “Breathless, we’ll meet the glass coast,” he murmurs on the chorus.  If you’re looking for bleak Noir romanticism, Hammers has it in spades.

‘Dagger’ revs things up with a blare of snarling Cab Calloway horns and an itinerary that has no intention of taking any prisoners. Aided and abetted by some brooding guitar licks, it’s another slice of neon Noir on a collision course with the Big Nowhere. “You know she was raised by panthers,” Stafford discloses as the song reaches its climax. A hair-raising ride that’s guaranteed to leave the listener breathless.

The title track, with its Jelly Roll bordello piano, verges on the phantasmagoric when set to eerie multi-tracked vocals. Then the guitar kicks in, knocking some junkyard scrap around. Ironically, Stafford hasn’t quite abandoned the six-strings.

 ‘Catastrophe’ with its “floating Autumn days” is a delirious bit of Cabaret. The mordant, sinister piano bar of ‘He Says Goodbye’, follows. A song Leonard Cohen fans should have no trouble cozying up to. The acoustic guitar tip toes in for its closeup on the hypnotically bleak, ‘Dark Before 4’. A grim gorgeous, candlelit ballad. The playfully morbid, ‘Walking Down The Shadows’ brings Rain Dogs era Tom Waits to mind.

Eight tracks in, and there’s no escape. No tearing your eavesdropping glass from the bloodstained wall. Not until the bitter end. After a macabre, after hours stroll through the ‘House of Souls’ its time to finally, ‘Empty The Bones’. And it’s lonesome business. Guitar Shaped Hammers at its most austere and solemn. Stafford’s vocals diffusing into a hallucinatory fog of echoes.

Klezmer flourishes lend the Faustian, ‘Three Wishes Blues’ a haunting, Old World charm that doesn’t quite brush off the chill. Alas, things don’t end well our protagonist. Yet, he cannot help but beg the question, “If you had three wishes wouldn’t you ask for the same?” Among so many arresting tracks, ‘Three Wishes Blues’, is an album standout.

It all comes down to a lonely man at the piano with the murder ballad, ‘The Last Day of Jimmy Dance’. Tipping it’s hat goodbye, before it all ends with, ‘The Lost Rhyming Poets’. An atmospheric coda to a moody album chockfull of gallows wit and macabre balladry. If you took Nick Cave’s Boatman’s Call and shuffled it with tracks from, First Born Is Dead, it might come close to describing what’s been laid down here. Close, but no cigar. Tom Waits once quipped, “I like beautiful melodies telling me terrible things.” Well, Tom, this is the album for you.

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