In our age of vapid celebrity, the word “legendary” is thrown around with reckless causality, but in the case of John Slowman, it’s perfectly apt. His musical (mis)adventures could fill a weighty tome, there’s no need to detail his history here, but when you consider Lone Star, Uriah Heep and UFO appear on his CV, you know you’re dealing with a special character. Working with such illustrious bands could easily overshadow Mr Sloman’s solo work, but he’s assembled an impressive body of work, amongst which his latest effort, Two Rivers, stands tall.
Having spent 45 years in the topsy turvy world of rock n’ roll, John could be forgiven for resting on past glories; a straight forward rock album would have been the easy (and understandable) option. However, Two Rivers sounds like nothing he’s recorded before (certainly nothing from his “rock” years) and, in fact, no two songs on this record inhabit the same sonic space. If you’re expecting an album in the vein of the aforementioned UFO then your preconceived ideas will be blown out the water. But, if you approach this album with an open mind, you’ll be in for a real treat, and opener ‘Two Rivers’ marks John as totally contemporary. It’s an understated (but impactful) introduction to the world of John Sloman, and it introduces themes that will echo throughout Two Rivers, and the whole album flows like water to the sea; sometimes fast, others slow, but always in perpetual motion.
Throughout his life John feels torn between the rivers Taff and Thames (hence the album’s title), and this record has an autobiographical bent which finds John baring his soul, and his descriptive lyricism renders each song a Polaroid taken at a certain moment of his life. The lyrics are often whimsical, humorous (and sometimes both at the same time: ‘70’s Sunday’) and deeply personal, yet they’re very relatable; the themes are universal, and the fact that they are sung in John’s golden tones makes them even more so. His voice is in fine fettle, and his oak-aged, honey-soaked vocals flow like a chocolatey river of silk, and adds the authoritative air of a wizened storyteller.
While it’s true you can’t judge a book by its cover (or an album by its sleeve), the jacket which houses Two Rivers gives a good indication of the sound contained within. Multi-coloured and painted with bold strokes, it’s a riotous cornucopia of colour, and the sound is equally kaleidoscopic. ‘The River Is A Time Machine’ is splashed with swirling Middle Eastern flourishes, while the following ‘Caerdydd (City On The River)’ melds folk to gospel, which might sound like a strange admixture, but it works rather well. There’s a fluidity to this album that means no matter what twist or turn it traverses, it remains quintessentially John Sloman. ‘From The Taff To The Thames’ could have come from the pen of Friedrich Hollaender or Mischa Spoliansky, it’s a piece of Weimar cabaret, only updated to the late twentieth-century. An album as varied as Two Rivers could come across as a tad eclectic, its narrative nature pulls it all together.
While not necessarily a concept album, the themes running through Two Rivers means it hangs together as a cohesive whole, and while it’s perfectly permissible to dip in and out, it’s best consumed in one sitting. With a retrospective solo compilation (Conspectus) to be released soon, it’s promising to be a busy time for John Sloman, but for now submerge yourself in the cool sounds of Two Rivers.
- Reviewed by Peter Dennis.
- Two Rivers is released via Red Steel Music and is available now.
- Two Rivers
- This River Is A Time Machine
- Caerdydd (City On The River)
- Scenes From An Old Biscuit Tin
- From The Taff To The Thames
- When I Go Home
- Rest In Peace (For Sylvy)
- Charring Cross Moon
- 70’s Sunday
- Walking Along The Taff
- The Last Coalminer
- Farewell To London Town