Howard Sinclair is a familiar figure on the UK live gig scene, having supported bands such as Panic Room, Lazuli, Morpheus Rising and Also Eden (who he joined for a while).
Make For Brighter Skies is his third solo album, the others being The Delicious Company Of Freaks (2012) and The Light Broke In (2014) and, judging by the lyrics, a deeply personal one for him. Home recorded, Sinclair plays all the guitars, bass, Hawaiian lap steel, mandolin, trumpet, harmonica, cello and keyboards as well as providing lead and harmony vocals, but he has several interesting musicians to assist him including John Hackett on flute and drummer Duncan Parsons from Hackett's band.
It is a varied selection of songs, but all delivered with conviction and feeling, starting with the laid-back mandolin-led Lunatic Desires. Resignation is an altogether more soulful but angrier proposition featuring Dan Hartland on French horn, about what sounds like an acrimonious end to a job.
Melancholic Angel's Share has Hackett on additional keyboards while Spring Tide is a sweet and wistful guitar instrumental. Love song Serenade has some resonant guitar but What A Pretty Flower is one of the most interesting songs, its raunchy electric guitar really ramping up the disdain for the narcissist, the subject at its heart.
However, there is redemption and happier times ahead as the title track Make For Brighter Skies explains, Gary Chamberlain's huge drums coming to the fore in this slow-paced reflective song.
I Take Your Hand is a soulful, bittersweet ballad, but Sinclair gets into his groove during the bluesy Free To Be Me in which he sounds uncannily like Robert Plant.
Closer Seven Long Years has an altogether Celtic folky vibe through the lovely violin of Eric Bouliette ((The Room, Nine Skies)) and bodhran of Jean Francois Torre (Sultans Of Strings), the song being about Sinclair's late and much-loved father.
It's a brave, pleasant album from this likeable troubadour, though Chamberlain's drums do get a little overpowering in places, and, small point, the album cover text could have done with a final proof-read.
*** Alison Reijman
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