Bill Pritchard

Midland Lullabies

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It's Bill Pritchard's fate to be an artist who is mostly unsung in his homeland. Though he's a British native who was born in Staffordshire and lives near Birmingham, his following in the U.K. is a tiny cult at best, while he's a star in Europe, particularly in France, where a number of noted musicians have eagerly collaborated with him. The dry wit and smart melodicism of Pritchard's songs certainly boast a sophistication that seems more inherently European than British, but that's not to say the old sod doesn't inform his work. After reconnecting with producer and collaborator Tim Bradshaw in 2012, Pritchard has been quite prolific by his own modest standards; the artist who made three albums between 1991 and 2004 has now made the same number in a space of five years, and 2019's Midland Lullabies is not only a jewel in Pritchard's stellar catalog, it's a set of songs where he allows his British sensibilities to take center stage. If Ray Davies and Lloyd Cole had teamed up to write a song cycle about life in the West Midlands, it might have sounded a bit like Midland Lullabies, though neither songwriter would be likely to rhyme "don't analyze" and "curly fries," as Pritchard does here to charming effect. The performances are primarily built around his graceful piano work, but it's his vocals, deep at the root, reedy at the top, and capable of cutting and lilting with the same gesture, that really sell these songs, and fine songs they are. If "Iolanda" and "The Last Temptation of Brussels" hint at more exotic locales, "Lullaby," "Thanks," "Lanterns," and "Mother Town" speak to the emotional pull of home, a place you love both for and despite its flaws, and these stories communicate a bittersweet longing that's lovely but with a dash of heartache under the surface. There are not many songwriters as literate and evocative as Pritchard, and fewer still who can sing and play with a skill that deepens the wit and the weariness of their lyrics, and Midland Lullabies captures him at the top of his form. If we're lucky, he'll keep favoring us with albums like this every 24 months or so.

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