MARTIN STEPHENSON AND THE DAINTEES RELEASE HAUNTED HIGHWAY ON 9TH FEBRUARY, AFTER A RELATIVELY QUIET TWELVE MONTHS – IN NEW ALBUM TERMS AT LEAST – FOR THEIR USUALLY PROLIFIC FRONTMAN.
At least some of that year has been spent in his role as producer / documenter for artists associated with his Barbaraville label – and many of them feature on companion volume WE ARE THE LLAMA (in a deft touch, given away free with HAUNTED HIGHWAY). Also unusual about Stephenson’s new album is the truncation of his group’s name; whittled down to, simply, ‘Daintees’ for what is so far the only time. Even their first two singles – back in 1982 and ’84, before Kitchenware added his name to give the media a focus as the band’s reputation grew – were billed as ‘The’ Daintees. So quite what this ultra-streamlining might signify (if anything), who knows? It could be that HAUNTED HIGHWAY is intended as a concentrated burst of mid-life Daintees at their best, but it’s probably Stephenson’s natural generosity; stalwart John Steel’s contribution (electric guitars, piano, bass) is enormous. The album actually features the least number of players of any Daintees release.
HAUNTED HIGHWAY lifts off with STANSTED GROUND, about Stephenson flying from the Highlands to meet up with partner Helen McCookerybook in London. The song first appeared on their shared album HAMILTON SQUARE in 2009, in a much more restrained and intimate form. Here the arrangement is full band and the tone is joyful – the rhythm section in particular on great form. Early bars brim with a guileless excitement reminiscent of (we kid you not) The Jackson 5’s I WANT YOU BACK.
Instrumentals MAHINA (set ’em up, cowboy) and JOHNNY RED (surf’s up, dude) book-end a run of songs in which the prevailing mode is frisky rockabilly; BACKHOUSE TIPPING, BLACK-EYED ROSE and HOBO TRAINS each recall the swing of 1992’s THE BALLAD OF THE ENGLISH ROSE (from THE BOY’S HEART). Elsewhere, GOD’S PLAN nods to NEON SKIES from the same album though, equally, there is something of Television in its tight rhythm. LET YOUR TRUE LOVE SHOW is what BOAT TO BOLIVIA’s title-track could have been; a reggae tune using dub rather than DX-7s. The finger-picking of big-hearted WISHING STONE is the only thing here representative of the more low-key and low-fi ground covered by Stephenson on his recent solo albums.
Martin Stephenson plays The Mouth Magazine Winter Special on 31st January. Details here