Martin Stephenson & the Daintees

Gladsome, Humour & Blue

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An album of haunting subtlety, Martin Stephenson & the Daintees' Gladsome, Humour & Blue is not the sort of record that reveals all of its charms on the first spin. Indeed, at first the album sounds merely pretty, with Stephenson's delicate vocals and mostly acoustic folk-tinged melodies occasionally listing toward being simply twee. But after a few listens, Stephenson's masterful lyrics become more apparent. Not content with the sort of solipsism that masquerades as thoughtfulness for most singer/songwriters, Stephenson isn't afraid to tackle big themes -- honor, death, fidelity, stuff like that -- but he does so gracefully, using artfully chosen metaphors that rarely ever spell out their deeper meanings. Similarly, the songs tend toward almost subliminal musical accents that are, in Phil Spector's apt phrase, "felt rather than heard." Proto-ambient songstress Virginia Astley guests on a few songs, as does Neil Conti of Kitchenware labelmates Prefab Sprout, and Gladsome, Humour & Blue finds Martin Stephenson & the Daintees pitched artfully between those two artists, but forging their own musical direction. Initial U.S. copies of Gladsome, Humour & Blue were packaged as a double LP and double-length CD including the entirety of Stephenson's first album, 1986's admirably eclectic but less artistically successful Boat to Bolivia.

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