British singer Alex Clare strikes an enjoyable balance on his third full-length, Tail of Lions. Here, the "Too Close" songwriter follows his sophomore effort, Three Hearts, with a further evolution of a sound that shines the spotlight on his voice, rather than overblown effects like the ones found on his dubstep-muddled debut, The Lateness of the Hour. Although a brief whiff of dub-wobble does creep up on "Love Can Heal," it thankfully doesn't overwhelm. On Tail of Lions, the sonic effects add to the mood rather than distract or obfuscate, creating spaced-out trip-hop heartbeats ("Get Real"), theatrical dramatics ("Basic"), and calming relief ("Tired from the Fire"). Recorded on a boat on the River Lea with Chris Hargreaves, album three is a competent synthesis of his prior works, combining his use of electronic flourishes with a lyrical depth and soulful delivery reminiscent of contemporaries like Ray LaMontagne, Hozier, and James Arthur. The power of his words and voice owes much to his faith and devotion. After relocating from London to Jerusalem with his family in 2015, Clare -- a devout Orthodox Jew -- dove even deeper into Hasidic teachings and scriptures. Those influences subtly appear on a handful of tracks ("Tired from the Fire" and "You'll Be Fine"), as well as in the album title, which refers to an ancient Jewish proverb that he explained as following greatness instead of negativity. That positivity envelops Tail of Lions, from the affirmative, literal song titles to the reflective and uplifting lyrics. Sonically, Clare hasn't lost his knack for melody and groove, especially on highlights like the explosive funk jam "Surviving Ain't Living," the visceral throbber "Gotta Get Up," and the rollicking "Open My Eyes." That latter track is the most aggressive Clare gets on an otherwise restrained album, a seething response to the political turmoil in the U.K. and U.S. in 2016. While there's nothing here as immediate and attention-grabbing as "Too Close," it's for the better. Tail of Lions is consistent and concise, and finds Clare on an upward trajectory where each successive release gets better and better.
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AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung