Having released Once We Were Pt 1 (see review) in the spring of 2016, Steve Hughes, who was previously the drummer with Big Big Train, Kino and The Enid respectively, ended the year with Once We Were Pt 2. While Pt 1 was dominated by one epic track, Summer Soldier, which weighed in at a massive 33:11, Pt 2 has a more balanced range of compositions, all recorded between October 2014 and May 2016.
Piano begins The Game before Hughes' airy voice comes in, the lyrics quizzing the meaning of life along a lovely, breezy melody that also features Richie Phillips on the most delicious sounding saxophone. The vagaries of human existence are displayed on Life's A Glitch, which showcases all Hughes' talents as songwriter, singer and multi-instrumentalist. The song includes the use of an electric blender, according to the sleeve notes.
The instrumental Propaganda Pt 2 is the shortest track and has a slightly Oriental vibe.
They Promise Everything sees Hughes picking up the tempo in his rant against politicians while Dec Burke delivers some suitably frenetic and masterful guitar work.
For There's Still Hope Hughes is joined by his sister Angie Hughes and Katja Piel on vocals, and Maclej Zolnowski on violin. It's upbeat, changes rhythm a couple of times en route, and deals with some of Hughes' favourite topics, those of living, losing and madness.
She's also covers loss, this time of a relationship. Hughes again plays all the instruments, including harmonica and a very tasteful guitar, while a flock of seagulls also makes an appearance. It starts as a very wistful but very tuneful song, but escalates into manic swirl of sound before piano and harmonica are introduced to slow it down again.
Off on another tangent, Spider On The Ceiling is short and sweet, Hughes' metronomic drumming coming into its own so that it almost turns reggae at one juncture.
Keith Winter on guitar and Maclej Zolnowski (violin) feature on the longest track, Clouds. This starts with a lovely piano intro, building into a glorious multi-layered musical landscape. Synths, piano and guitar burst out of the mix in places before the piano takes it back to a gentler logical conclusion. One Sweet Word is a more vocally-led composition, the voices singing in the round at a couple of points, while swirling violin and guitar passages give it extra texture and power.
Hughes is a clever and very accomplished performer and this album again shows his ability to weave together some intricate and occasionally quite breath-taking music.
**** Alison Reijman
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