Luther The Bhear‘s been blessed with a good label.
His ugly mug has appeared in quite a few blogs covering the Glasgow music scene, all of which regurgitate the same basic information with little opinion on the music itself.
However, the re-occurring description of his music as ‘angry Scottish folk-pop/rock‘ doesn’t really ring true, more like an attempt to add a bit of intrigue to a self-confessed lover of cheesecake and awkward humour (although that might be a marketing ploy too – you never know with these shady new folk artists).
His first album, I’ll play Johnny If You Play June, definitely carries traces of folk-pop; the music is welcoming and catchy (‘Brand New Start’ even begins with the ‘Buck Rogers’ chord sequence) but takes its time, letting the guitar work and the space itself soothe you into a calm, subdued state.
If only his lyrics were of the same calibre.
Most of the time Luther offers glimpses of a deep, personal life story like a good folk troubadour should, with many fulfilling events and meaningful relationships, but fails to really deliver on them.
Success comes and goes; ‘Iceberg’ rises and falls nicely, with a nice lyrical theme to boot and nice use of contrast.
It’s nice, as well as being one of the songs that benefit most from the album’s stripped-back approach.
When most songs feature just Luther and an acoustic guitar, however, the main flaw is plain to see; it’s woefully inconsistent lyrically.
‘Brand New Start’ is one of the main offenders, as Luther wrings out the old “world keeps spinnin”‘ cliché.
Elsewhere, he flirts uncomfortably with blues on ‘Lonely Town’ (of which he professes to be the king), while the title track almost runs out of ideas despite a promising accompaniment.
But when he sings “my body aches from trying to be here for you” amid ‘Departure’’s shimmering guitar harmonics, it’s a breath of fresh air.
It seems one of his main strengths, of which there are many despite the way this review is painting him, is not trying to be too introspective or deep, and just say how he feels.
And in the middle of it all there’s ‘Pour Vouz ‘, a beautiful instrumental completely devoid of pretence that is wholly surprising considering the type of songs that came before it.
Believe it or not, playing it safe actually seems to be Luther’s weak point.
This, and the much more successful take on blues ‘Devil in Mind’ end the album on a high, but is unable to dispel the scent of unrealised potential.
So, a few kinks need to be ironed out.
I’ll Play Johnny If You’ll Play June is more of an EP than a debut album, a suggestion of things to come rather than a statement of intent; there’s a lot to like, but a lot to be frustrated by.
It’s the collection of sketches Luther has to refine before he can try for the big leagues.
In conclusion, the Bhear remains an enigma, and it’s an intriguing prospect as to where he’ll go next.
Hopefully some more ideas aren’t too far behind.
Words: Andrew Maguire