Secret Meeting score: 70
by Philip Moss
Music can be a funny old thing. One minute you’re signed to a major record label, receiving Ivor Novello nominations, performing with the likes of Dame Shirley Bassey, and being lauded by the likes of Tom Waits and Rufus Wainwright. Then, almost in a puff of smoke, it’s gone.
By 2016, eight years on since his second record, Sky Bound, Baxter was in the proverbial wilderness. But out of nowhere came an invitation from the widower of sixties’ guitar pioneer, Davey Graham, to unveil the blue plaque that would be placed in his home town of Market Bosworth to commemorate his life’s work. Despite Graham’s music being covered by the likes of Paul Simon, and inspiring Jimmy Page and Ray Davies among others, it was Baxter’s work that Graham had fallen for in his later years. For Baxter, this was the boost of confidence and spark of inspiration he needed, and born was the The Ballad of Davey Graham.
But where The Ballad of Davey Graham looks fondly on another man’s ‘world of wonder’, this is not a mood that transpires across the record as a whole. The Other Side of Blue opens with its melancholic title track – true to his word, the song is sans the ‘bells and whistles’ and ‘camouflage’ that an overblown production can bring, instead limited to just piano and voice. ‘People change, we don’t notice. I guess I thought they’d always be the same’, he opens, and while on first listen he seems to be making a wider observation, it somehow feels like the lyrics has been written – looking in the mirror – reflectively identifying the changes in himself.
The mournful feel of of the opener continues on For Crying Out Loud. Over a fluttering of Spanish guitars and lugubrious strums, Baxter’s heart is clearly controlling his pen as he whispers – ‘nothing you say rings true and it doesn’t matter if you say it loud… how can I show my heart when I cut it out?’ This is a man who has been battered by love, and isn’t afraid to show it to the world.
Black Are The Gypsy Horses will appeal to fans of Villagers and Willy Mason. Cold would slot quite comfortably onto Elbow’s debut, Asleep In The Back, with Baxter doing a quite remarkable job of sounding like Guy Garvey. While closer, Where The Wild River Runs, brings the record to a fittingly downbeat conclusion.
If there was to be one criticism thrown at The Other Side of Blue, it would be Baxter’s persistence with simple arrangements which, at times, display a lack of variance in musicality – particularly when compared to the great records which tread a similar path such as Ryan Adams’ Love Is Hell. But if you’re looking for a backdrop with which to drown your sorrows to, The Other Side of Blue could well provide the companionship you are looking for.