Hot on the heels of the critically acclaimed The Art Of Balance Newman waste no time and release their 8th studio album Under Southern Skies. Although the band now has a firm live line up of Steve Newman (Vocals), Paul Boyle (Keyboards), Shaun Bessant (Guitar), Dave Bartlett (Bass) and Nic Lipscombe (Drums), Steve continues to compose and record the entire album himself with drums provided by the ever present Rob McEwan. Steve also mixes and produces the album at his own home studio ‘The Blue Room’.
I have to admit when I initially heard about this album I was concerned it was been fast tracked and it could hinder the quality of the album. Steve has always been very prolific and productive but I had alarm bells ringing about two Newman albums in the space of a year. These initial doubts were not only relieved upon hearing the album through once but left my jaw smashing through the floor. I couldn’t rave about Art of Balance enough and still do but Under Southern Skies to me is bar far his most accomplished collection of songs.
This album feels far more commercial, with more emphasis on the choruses whilst maintaining the distinctive Newman flavour we have all come to love. Steve has never stood still and each and every Newman album has its own feel or style, the promotion behind this album proclaimed a return to his earlier sound and whilst there is flourishes of things that hark back to other albums I see this album very much as an evolution. He takes elements of all his previous albums and has crafted a fine collection of slickly produced melodic rock gems, but at no point do I feel this album is a retrospective or devolution of the bands style.
Steve always delivers fine musical performances on his albums and although he has never neglected the keyboards on any of his albums, his keyboard compositions on this album are outstanding and make you really think Steve is an un-sung keyboard hero! Some songs bring the keys to the forefront to amazing and magical effect, but Steve also knows the importance of the background use of key’s and has given some songs a fuller, richer and warm sound.
This is not to say he neglects other aspects in favour of a prominent keyboard sound, I think some of his guitar riffs and solo’s are some of the most hook laden and melodic he has ever crafted with some truly outstanding and shining moments. I should also point out that Shaun Bessant makes a guest appearance performance on the solo for ‘If He Loves You’. Vocally I’ve always been a fan of Steve and he doesn’t let us down here and on a couple of songs goes above and beyond and delivers some really raw and emotive performances on the likes of ‘Wish You Were Here’ & ‘Strength To Carry On’.
For me one of Steve’s strengths is his lyric writing and there is some really deep stuff on here which is unsurprising given the rollercoaster ride Steve has had in his personal life over the past couple of years. This isn’t a dark album in the least it’s actually quite positive and bright in the main, but I’m sure some of these songs were very cathartic for the man.
It’s very easy for me to say this is a must for Melodic Rock fans but the fact is if you like melody driven rock this is essential, seriously what you waiting for get on the net and order it now! This album proves without a doubt the talent within this genre in the UK and with killer albums like this we can compete with any band the Scandinavians and Americans can throw at us. This is Newman’s finest album to date and I’m sure even better is still yet to come, but in the meantime get Under Southern Skies and crank it UP!