Hudson Taylor - Singing For Strangers

by Sam England

It’s been four years of solid change and evolution for the folk-pop duo, Hudson Taylor. Since forming in 2011, the Irish brothers have undergone a name change, the signing of a major record deal, and now they’ve released their debut album.

The term “debut” is almost misleading in this context, considering the fact that the pair have released three EPs with various singles sprinkled around the edges since their formation, with the most popular songs naturally making second appearances on this new album. There are by far more new tracks than old though, and even those that are older have certainly not been recycled, with additional instrumentation and production being added to most.

Speaking of which, the production on this album is noticeably crisp. This is, in most situations, certainly a positive attribute for a piece of music to hold. Yet in some ways the über-clarity of recording quality and the lack of background ambience serves to detract from the overall feeling of integrity, which is so needed within the folk genre. Don’t get me wrong, this album is a strong musical release, but my last statement somewhat summarises the main flaw in the album, in that the whole thing feels like a tug-of-war between being an honest, heartfelt folk record, and a compilation of radio-friendly acoustic singalongs.

No song on the album exemplifies this latter trait more so than opening number, Just A Thought, which unsurprisingly was one of the singles released in the lead up to the full album release. This song is an obvious attempt at producing a radio and chart destined track, with a fast-paced tempo, clapping, and crowd vocals singing repeated “Ooohhh”s and other sounds of that ilk. It is quite catchy, but it also so badly lacks any portrayal of emotion that it’s just too difficult to connect with the track on the level required to make it memorable.

Yet the next track completely reverses any bad impressions one may previously have had. Butterflies, my personal favourite from this record, is such a stark contrast to its predecessor in terms of the integrity it portrays. Alfie, the lead singer, takes on a far more subdued, gentle vocal technique, making an excellent job of conveying emotion. This, in combination with the delicate piano accompaniment, makes for a truly beautiful song that has received a firm five star rating in my iTunes library.

Entering in after Butterflies is one of Hudson Taylor’s historical big hitters, Chasing Rubies. This song has been a staple in their live set for years, and was written all the way back when the duo went under the name of ‘Alfie & Harry’ and uploaded covers to their YouTube channel. It was originally released on their 2012 EP, Cinematic Lifestyle, and again as a single late last year - so the cascading overlaid guitar melody is immediately recognised by even the most casual of fans. To those who are more familiar with the acoustic version from Cinematic Lifestyle, the new addition of bass and drums to the mix can be slightly uncomfortable, with them almost seeming like a production afterthought. Despite this, it’s still an absolute cracker of a song and a good pick-me-up after the more downbeat nature of Butterflies.

The next track floats on through, very much pleasant, but not massively distinctive. The following two songs however, are. Wildfires is a stellar piece of song writing, featuring a very nicely toned electric guitar. One of the more personal sounding tracks, it’s not surprising that it’s another favourite of mine. With Alfie’s vocals reaching into a higher register occasionally, and Harry perfectly providing backing support, this song sounds like a lost Simon & Garfunkel track that has benefited from a 21st century recording studio and production team. It really is that good. Weapons, which follows Wildfires, is another really nice, honest song that does well to convey a vivid sense of vulnerability, especially when the orchestral string instrument begins playing, and in the expertly written chorus.

The final track, Off The Hook, makes for a very nice closing to the album. This song sees a more subtle production than seen previously, and the adoption of a finger-picking guitar style as opposed to the strumming usually employed by the brothers. The guitar melody is what makes this song special, and it does wonders at transporting me to some natural landscape, like a vast meadow or semi-sheltered woodland on a warm Summer’s day. The song is very atmospheric in that respect.

The deluxe version of the album features a set of songs that have been previously featured on the band’s older EPs, as well as a song featuring Alfie’s girlfriend, and established musician in her own right, Gabrielle Aplin. All these songs are really pleasant to listen to, definitely having a more low-key and relaxed vibe than the main body of the album, but some of the best songs can actually be found here if that mood suits you better. This makes it a good package for anybody who sees themselves as a fairly avid fan of Hudson Taylor, and offers a friendly chance for those new to the band to catch up on what they’ve missed.

As for some closing remarks then, my opinion of this piece of music can be summarised by this statement: I’m not sure if it is actually a piece at all, but it’s still great either way. The constant fluctuation from song to song, with one being a radio-friendly live show belter, and the next being a slower, self-reflective ballad, means the album doesn’t quite gel together like one would hope. However, the individual merit of each song still means that this release is very strong, showing off just how talented these brothers are at writing excellent, albeit pop-py, songs. If want to hear the softer side of the duo, invest in the deluxe edition, as the little gems of raw emotional honesty hide in there.

Read our interview with Hudson Taylor here.