Personnel: Steven James Adams (vocals, guitar); Dan Michaelson (guitar, piano); Daniel Fordham (drums); Neil Rogers (percussion).
Audio Mixer: Neil Rogers .
Recording information: HalfTon, Cambridge.
Photographers: Dan Michaelson; Steven James Adams.
A well-established songwriter after his time leading bands such as the Broken Family Band and Singing Adams, Steven James Adams returns two years after his solo debut, House Music, with the more streamlined Old Magick. While his debut was a home recording with several guest musicians, the follow-up was recorded in a professional studio with the smaller crew of producer Dan Michaelson (who also plays guitar, bass, and piano on the record), drummer Daniel Fordham, and percussionist Neil Rogers. The limited instrumentation and scope fittingly put the spotlight on songcraft and on Adams as singer/songwriter, as he's not only a sharp, often wry lyricist but a top-notch weaver of breezy melodies. A mix of sweet romanticism and plain-spoken observations about contemporary life, Old Magick kicks off with a song that sounds like the former but offers the latter. Bouncy yet wistful in tone, "Togetherness" addresses continued divisions between the classes ("Til we meet in the middle/When we get tired of feeling cynical"). Later, a rant in 6/8 time titled "Sea of Words" calls out failures on the societal and relationship fronts, including the remark "The news from nowhere, it's all around us/It tells us one thing, we don't know anything." Elsewhere, the ballad "Modern Options" offers a more personal focus, listing possible actions for getting unstuck in life, and "Sonny" is a drinking song-like acoustic-guitar shantey. Altogether an effective cross between the less gloomy range of '70s singer/songwriters and acerbic British tunesmiths like Paul Heaton and Robyn Hitchcock, the Cambridge, England native's style feels at once sentimental and pointed, a combination that charms. ~ Marcy Donelson