Audrey Spillman - Neon Dream

Few albums have captured our hearts this year as much as Audrey Spillman's "Neon Dream", it's an album that rewards and reveals more with each listen and depending on your mood and the track of choice it can be beguiling, sultry or hypnotic. For much of the album Audrey and husband and producer Neilson Hubbard require remarkably little instrumentally to make something so compelling. It seems only yesterday but it was actually about 2 and 1/2 years ago that we were raving about the excellent Buffalo Blood album that they worked on with Dean Owens and Joshua Britt and anyone who loved that album will surely be equally rewarded with this effort.

The album starts with the first single "Austin Motel", which contains the phrase that gives the album its title. It perfectly sets the scene for the albums sound, big open spaces punctuated with attention grabbing percussion while the guitars set the mood rather than the driving hooks of each song.

"We watch as the sun goes down over the Austin Motel

On the edge of what I know is about to break

You turn the shades to black, your hand up my back

And we fade into this Neon Dream"

Audrey delivers the lines in a steamy dreamy way and there seems little doubt as to how iintoxicated with love she has become with the following lines

"I know right now could be exactly what I need

I swear as long as I'm breathing, Honey I'm never leaving"

The pace of the percussion picks up and the sound becomes a wonderful swathe of guitars as the pair drive to

"Watch the stars show out"

before the track once again returns to Audrey gently singing the final words in this epic opener.

"Summertimme" is indeed the 1935 George Gershwin classic from "Porgy & Bess", covered by everybody from Ella Fitzgerald to Lana Del Ray and The Fun Boy Three. Audrey's version is characterised by a slow ever present drum beat, the vocals in the opening verse equally almost tumble from Audrey's lips, at times little more than a breathy whisper. By the second verse Audrey is vocally in full swing, while the music has the feel of a film noir detective movie, with a jazz trumpet and dreamy guitar licks. There's a hot sultry feeling to the track and Audrey's parting line of "Don't You Cry" is simply dripping with emotion.

By contrast "Beyone The Blue" is probably the closest the album gets to a standard Americana track, opening with Audrey's cooing vocal turned into a swirling echo before launching into an uptempo affairr. The impression of a full on band on closer listening is really mainly the drums and an acoustic guitar, somehow the sporadic pedal steel and piano invote the listener to aurally fill in the gaps. With a sumptuous instrumental middle section the song passes by almost as a blur.

Any thoughts that Audrey was going to cover Rick Astely's "Never Gonna Give You Up" are hastily dispelled in the opening few bars, with an intruiging opening of a singular repeating drum sound and some selective piano and guitar elements - Audrey arrives to set the scene over this stark setting

"Got this feeling for you baby, burning underneath my skin

After years of being empty. my heart is full again"

In an unexpected twist the chorus becomes a feel good calypso lilt with a jaunty guitar sound and Audrey delivering the title of the song in a delightful upbeat way - the expression of love being the core message of the song. Once again the instrumental breaks are sublime, complete with a dreamy trumpet solo.

Inspired by a childhood photograph "Red Balloon" is a song about letting go. With just an acoustic guitar for company Audrey paints the scene so perfectly that the listener can easily visualise the characters of the song, Audrey and her father.

"Got this memory of us down by the shore - ships coming in from sea

And you, in your faded blue jeans and me holding a Red Balloon"

It's a vivid memory captured forever by a camera, an idyllic moment frozen in time

"This picture held up in a frame is the only thing that feels true

A moment where we held the sun, there wasn't anyone, to tear it from you"

The "letting go" seems to be about cutting those parental ties. allowing yourself to establish your own identity,

"White River" is a dark narrative about the plight of the Cherokee Native Americans, that first made an appearance of the "Buffalo Blood" album, both versions equally rich in atmosphere, all but placing you on the prair