Label: Independent
Release Date: 18th March 2016

The second album from Belfast folk band The Long Stay opens with the title track ‘Fear of  Water’. The song takes the listener on an almost mythical dream-like journey through a series of catastrophic events painted in extremely descriptive and vivid lyrics. Is the song a dream or a metaphor for passing time?

We certainly don’t know and we love the wonderful ambiguity contained within. Cleverly backed by some beautiful and skillful playing which on first listen distracts from the content of the song, it is only on repeated listens that the listener realises the contrast between the apparent lightness of the music and darker themes contained within the song. If there was ever a song that exemplified the phrase beautiful melancholy then this is it.

I saw you drowning there. I heard you scream. The moon was shining out over the fields, and the strange light it cast made it seem so real. Seem so real.

‘Walls come Tumbling Down’ is a song that could easily have appeared on Paul Simon’s ‘Graceland’. The bouncy upbeat rhythm and catchy riffs make it sound like a mixture of ‘Graceland’ and Booker T’s ‘Soul Limbo’. Once again we simply amazed by the beautiful and stunning musicianship of this band

‘Box of Life’ continues in the now established vein of upbeat folk-pop and features Belfast singer-songwriter Una Clarkin providing smooth harmonies. The song itself has a simple message. Don’t keep life’s loves and experiences locked up in your heart. Open it up and share them. The heart is the box of life.

Oh life is full of all the things, little things you say or do.  Sometimes we’ll put them in a box, put them away, save them for another day. It’s a box of life, a box of love, a box of hope, a box of joy.

‘Wonder Why’ has more of an Americana feel to it and once again it features Una Clarkin’s beautiful harmonies and background vocals. The real treat on this one is a very Clapton circa mid 70s sounding electric guitar solo by Matthew Malcolm. In fact, this wouldn’t have gone amiss on Clapton’s ‘Slowhand’ album such is the vibe and feel of it.

The listener could be easily deceived into thinking the band are relatively new to the Northern Ireland music scene, but they’ve been around since the 1990s and their first album ‘First Collection’ developed a cult following with local radio stations such as Cool FM, Downtown Radio and Radio Ulster collectively playing songs from the album on a regular basis.

As with most bands, careers and families took precedence and the band members took time out from playing together, but continued to write and meet up frequently at open mic nights. A renewed vigor in 2014 saw The Long Stay playing gigs again with plans being made towards recording another album, and by late February 2016 the second record was ready to go.

‘Coming and Going’ is another song that could have sat easily on ‘Graceland’ with its catchy melody, vocal harmonies and subtle guitar playing.

It is a hard task to genuinely pick out one stand out track on this record, but the instrumental ‘Journey’ is something special. Intricate guitar playing mixed with some wonderful harp playing by harpist Emma Granger and dreamy piano played by Neil Foster make this a wonderfully textured addition to the record.

This second release by the band may have been a long time coming, but it has certainly been worth the wait. The musical arrangements are clever, textured and intricate, yet still maintain a simple and uncomplicated feel to them. The melodies draw the listener into vivid and often dreamlike lyrics that lead on a fantastic musical odyssey that encourages multiple listens to find more of the delights contained within.

It may only be March, but already ‘Fear the Water’ is a very strong contender for my album of the year.