James Nighthawk upon releasing his début album has chosen a perfect title to really get you in the mood for listening to him. “The Twilight Sessions” nestles between acoustic folk veering between tongue in cheek pub shanty’s and delicate deliveries.
“Not the One” is a prime example – a very traditional song structure with pristine production values. Every squeak and tinge of the guitar can be heard and Nighthawk’s soft breathy delivery works a treat alongside the xylophone. It really harks back to lullaby’s of the 50’s and 60’s and the production gives much needed depth and substance to each song in turn . “Midas Touch” is one of the very few plugged tracks with simple but catchy hooks and a real drive behind the guitars and chord structures. “Jamboree” is a short ghostly track devoid of much bass to emphasis the whole emotional depth of the track. What bass is there is provided by echoing backing vocals which is a great touch. There’s a slight doubling treatment that gives the main vocal’s an eerie otherworldly twist and its a beautifully performed quiet pause for breath. “Don’t Give Your Love Out” is a fun duet with a female vocalist which sits firmly in the happy clap / thigh slap folk section. I personally wanted it to burst into some massive firework exploding finale but as it is, it makes a mighty fine pint swaying country pub number.
“Ghost Town” is along with Jamboree my favourites from the album. It’s where James pulls away from some of the more by the numbers approach and shows there’s someone who wants to give you a warning that not all is quite right as the sun goes down. Discordant embellishments and ever-present feedback synth circulates behind a track that feels taut and on edge – without ever letting go. It’s a stark contrast to the more whimsy “Crystal Ball” which brings back some electric guitar and makes me think of Hawaii without the slide the guitar. “Country Ball” gives the genre away in the title and reminds me of those internet songs you first looked up when you got onto the internet which have some lightly humorous punchlines at the end of each verse. It doesn’t quite fit the usual music I enjoy but the fact I didn’t scream barn dance is testament to the quality of the track.
“Stay in Touch” is another favourite with Nighthawk taking a very understated vocal approach while the a quickened percussive beat juxtaposes a sad slow guitar melody. They interplay with each other beautifully and again shows some real moments of genius. “Speak Out” continues a more experimental approach to delivery with various vocal techno-wizardry a marching beat over some emotional and politically charged lyrics that can be laid unto many concepts. It then does explode into a psychedelic finale as finally after a several taut songs – it’s like the coil springs and everything is released out.
With the big explosion over “Let Me Know” returns to a more bluesy folk style of writing love letters home whilst chewing corn on the farm. Sweet, friendly and like a ray of sunshine through grimaced lips – it’s another song that delivers sad lines through misleading happy notes. “Ftw” changes things up for an up-tempo waltzing ballad which reminds me of “War is Over (This is Christmas)” because of the vocal echo and the production of the guitar before a soft closure with “One Hell of a Time” finger picks its way effortlessly to a thoughtful candlelit ending.
James Nighthawk’s “The Twilight Sessions” sounds like it was recorded at 10.30pm under an oil lamp surrounded by country folk swaying whilst drinking some fine wine whilst the crowd exchange loving and slightly evil glances at each other. It houses all the warmth and traditional values of an old skool folk album but with very interesting production choices that give the album and the genre a fresh lick of paint. A most welcome addition to the barn indeed.