Reviewed by Helen Whitall
Nottingham's Paul Bell is an established singer/songwriter, now releasing his sixth album, 'First Light'. "Beautiful And Brave" makes an unusual start to an album, a tear-jerker about how the loss of a baby moved a couple's friends to carry out acts of kindness in her memory. This is sweet and inspiring, the music upbeat in keeping with the tone, but the underlying loss is still prominent. "Down The Middle" is a lovely song with a truly thought-provoking message, how the divide between good and evil runs right down the middle of our hearts and we are a mixture of both with all that potential for grace and redemption. The acoustic guitar rings beautifully beneath. This is followed by the warm but repetitive "Even When You're Gone", all about how your legacy will outlive you, beyond what you see in your lifetime. The next song, "Look Back Smiling", is a more leisurely piece about appreciating the moment, composed of slowly strummed guitar with slide and piano accompaniment. "Not Goodbye" is an emotional Elton-John-esque piano ballad about death's temporary separation, dedicated to his late father. "Mend The Cracks With Gold" then reflects on the Japanese art of kintsugi, the idea being that what you can't undo can be made into something better. The subtle background instrumentation is very pretty and atmospheric but the tune is again repetitive. Bell's characteristic gentle sense of humour is back in "Things No-One Knows", with silly questions (where do the odd socks and tupperware lids go?) but then big questions of life, to make you giggle, then think. The album ends with thoughts of the father heart of God and what really matters in the big scheme of things. Producers Dan and Matt Weeks have done a nice job, though overall I found the album had rather too little variation, and with the gentle softness of the music and Bell's vocals, the effect is a bit soporific. Grief, loss and reflection on the shortness of life are an undercurrrent of the whole project, but the overall message is overtly life affirming and focussed on embracing what really matters in the present.
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