Peter Astor / Peter Astor & the Holy Road

Paradise

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After his group the Weather Prophets split, Peter Astor kept on writing and recording songs that showcased his rock-solid vocals and songcraft. Both of his first two solo albums for the Creation label (1990's Submarine and 1991's Zoo) were full of tender melodies, restrained instrumentation, and heartfelt sophistication. In other words, they were painfully out of step with what was going on in the world of indie music at the time and due to this, Creation cut him loose. Undaunted, Astor formed a new group -- the Holy Road -- made up of players who had been in Felt, Everything But the Girl, and the Oyster Band and found a new home on France's Danceteria label. This new assemblage's first album, 1992's Paradise, is a cracking batch of songs shot through with Astor's effortless charm and full of singalong choruses. The band sounds like a looser, fuller version of the usually stripped-down Weather Prophets; the guitars jangle and chime, the bass darts about melodically, and Astor glides above it like a heartbroken crooner. The songs that leap out the first few times through the album are those with a gently sprightly pace and lighter touch: "She Took the T.V." and "Almost Falling in Love" are fine folk-pop heartbreakers; "The Hotel at the Edge of the World" is a rambling country rocker; and "Secret Life" is lovely post-Felt pop that makes good use of lightly phased guitars. The soul of the album reveals itself on further listens and the slower, more meditative tracks sink in more deeply. Astor's burnished vocals, the band's subtle playing, and the restrained ache of the lyrics combine to create a mood as melancholy as the end of summer -- or the end of a relationship. Sometimes he and the band wrap the sadness in straightforward guitar-led songs that slide around the feelings ("Love, Full-On," "Lost Soul") in the same way the best Weather Prophets songs did, sometimes they conjure up fine French Chanson as on the slinky "Sideways and the Golden Egg," other times they strip the sound down to Astor, a single guitar, and some atmosphere. "Guy Fawkes Night" tells a nostalgic story simply and truthfully as the phased guitars come back to color the song, and "Paradise" ends the album on a soft cloud of peaceful regret. Through the album, Astor and his band work the flip side of Brit-pop, writing and playing thoughtful and restrained songs that provide comfort, not hedonistic thrills. It's another in a long line of such albums from Astor, each one worth checking out when you need a musical cuddle or a quiet word from a kind friend.

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