Darren Stockford

Swab the (record) decks! Tommy Hale is All At Sea

Album cover of All At Sea by Tommy Hale

I’ve been following the career of Texan singer-songwriter Tommy Hale, as a fan and writer, since the late '90s, and was recently gifted a preview of his new album, All At Sea, which comes out this Friday.

Yep, in five days’ time, this weighty vessel will be pulling into port and dropping anchor – and you can rest assured that, as tempted as I am to go overboard, these are the only ocean-based puns I’ll be floating in this review, so call off the coastguard.

Nearly eight years on from his last album, Magnificent Bastard, Tommy and the British department of his band the Magnificent Bastards – ie, Simon Moor, John O’Sullivan, Nick Beere and Dan Tilbury – have crafted another fine collection of toe-tappers and sorrow-drowners. And, as with every record Tommy’s ever made, it’s a pleasingly eclectic listen.

There’s proto-punk (Hideaway), synth-adorned new wave (World Won’t Wait), dark, hypnotic sleaze (Let’s Start A Fire), Stonesy rock ‘n’ roll (That’s How It Goes), noirish balladry (Beauty In Darkness), and a little Spanish flavouring courtesy of the Tex Smith cover Esperanza.

There’s also some nostalgic Americana in the shape of Radio Towers, a Milton Mapes song from 2001 that’s awash with yearning and really hits the spot for me. “What happened to that spiritual song? Lost in the static of the AM band. Wish I could get it back again…”

It gets me right in the feels, as the kids say - or used to say, about 20 years ago. (I’m getting there, man.)

Tommy Hale

Tommy’s voice is as strong and varied as ever, and there’s a cinematic sweep to the record’s sequencing, too, making it feel like a road trip.

The world has changed so much since 2016, when Tommy put out his last record, and it’s tempting to read some of these new songs as reactions to that, to some degree or another. Now You Know, a rocker that feels like a long-overdue offloading, certainly is, and I suspect that the singer speaks for many of us when he admits: “I’m hanging on to what’s left of my brain.”

As the album enters its final act, and Last Town Before The Border – fittingly the penultimate song – serves up some wistful late-night country, it feels like I’ve had a good chat with a knowing barroom saviour who’s making sure I’m okay after all this.

There’s even a lyrical hug, or shoulder slap if you prefer. “I know that I’m a stranger but I never meant to be / I’d like to know before I go that you had a drink on me.”

However, we part on an uncertain note, as the final song, the title track, offers a pensive goodbye. With its gorgeous arrangement mounted on a bed of ethereal, late '70s synths and edging feedback, it feels like a visit from the ghost of recording studios past, while its lyric speaks to feeling lost and adrift in this mad old world. “I waved to my friend / My friend could not see / We’re all cloaked in fog / All at sea…”

This song both breaks my heart and mends it. It’s perfect.

All At Sea, the album, comes out on Friday 12 April. Tommy and the Magnificent Bastards are also playing a few shows this week in the UK, so take a look if you fancy:

Thursday 11 April – Beehive, Swindon
Friday 12 April – Giffard Arms, Wolverhampton
Saturday 13 April – Aces & Eights, London

It’s been a while but it’s good to have Tommy Hale washing up on these shores once again – hopefully making waves. (Damn. And it was all going swimmingly…)

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