It starts with the bells. They herald change: a wedding, a birth, a death. They peal out warnings and alerts: an army is approaching, school is in session, services are beginning. Bells communicate events to people in the surrounding area; they command our attention and they may demand action.
It starts with the bells. British expatriate and Nashville resident, Clive Gregson, has asked us to listen. He is heralding change and commanding our attention. It is a confident move on Gregson's part. So many albums that contain the same type of imagery turn out be unworthy of the metaphor, and the bells just sound trite. One could be forgiven for dreading the tolling of bells on an album, but Happy Hour turns out to be worthy of such an auspicious beginning.
The bells fade quickly and are forgotten, but they have done their job. We are drawn in and are rewarded for paying closer attention than perhaps we would have otherwise. Gregson's songs are as deep as his voice is rich. And humans, being complex creatures, provide Gregson infinite inspiration for plumbing the depths of the human condition.
In Happy Hour, Gregson captures the darker aspects of our lives and the ways in which we cope and thrive despite them. We've all committed small betrayals ("sometimes I'm such an arsehole/especially when what you need most is a saint," from Cause for Complaint), we have made errors in judgment ("she told me I was perfect/she asked me if I'd stay/If I'd known then what I know now/I would have walked away," from I Would Have Walked Away), felt doomed by fate ("but you'll see nothing in my future/cos nothing ever lasts," from Nothing Ever Lasts), and we have all found ways to cope. We find happiness in life's small pleasures, like music ("melody, melody, oh I'll take some of that/now if you please" from Melody), and we dream a little too ("come Friday you'll find me/dressed up to the nines/My hair will be combed/my shoes will be shined/And if Rosalyn McGuire can spare me the time/I'll show her that I'm Fred Astaire," from Fred Astaire).
The music Gregson chooses for his lyrical accompaniment is never jarring or even slightly dissonant despite the subject matter. He treats all of the people in his songs with respect and sympathy despite their faults or shortcomings. Both the light and dark subjects are treated with warm, catchy melodies that sometimes belie the subject.
The entire album was recorded in Gregson's home studio with Gregson playing all of the instruments and singing all of the vocals. It suits the songs on Happy Hour. Everything benefits from Gregson's personal attention.
Happy Hour is an intimate album that, like a good movie or a play, can take you out of yourself. It changes your mood and provides a new perspective. Despite the attention commanded by the bells that open the album, the songs are ultimately strong enough to keep us focused on them, and we are rewarded by merely listening. What else could we ask from a songwriter?
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Edited by Roberta B. Schwartz