In Another Life is the first album by Norman Lamont and the Heaven Sent. It's an instantly accessible collection of acoustic-based songs, full of catchy melody and wry humour.
Here’s a four star review by Nick Toczek in RNR magazine.
Lamont is a storyteller whose entertaining, tongue-in-cheek lyrics are delivered with self-assured laconic panache.
If you were this Edinburgh-based singer-songwriter, you’d surely be sick of saying “No, not that Norman Lamont.” In Another Life‘s overall tone is set by pleasantly catchy opener End of Tears with its countrified pop in the Nick Lowe mould. Track two, Green Lights All The Way, has a typically colloquial lyric telling a tale of luck complete with a sub-chorus of ‘jammy bugger’.
Third up is a reworking of Lamont’s classic, The Ballad of Bob Dylan, a fun, lightweight romp through an encounter with an escaped mental patient claiming to be Bob Dylan.
Lamont is a storyteller whose entertaining, tongue-in-cheek lyrics are delivered with self-assured laconic panache. These come beautifully packaged by his accomplished backing quartet and assorted guest musicians, as amply demonstrated on the lusciously lustrous Indo-Eastern Bamboo.
There’s a late-night lazy jazz-club feel to the end-of-a-relationship The Goodbye Song. This is followed by the album’s infectious reggaefied title song, and obvious single. Once again, his cynically clever lyric stands out.
Love (As When) is a touching love song that precedes the fractured romance of rocker You Made Me Do It. The melancholy Damn Grey, the jauntier but regret-filled vaudeville Had and keyboard rocker Until I Found You complete this minor gem.
Some of the greatest, most effortless-sounding albums were a weary long trauchle (to use a Scots word) to make. To take one example, Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours took over a year, and yet sounds to this day as if the whole thing happened spontaneously over a sunny LA weekend. Apparently they took three days just to agree over the tuning of a piano; only Christine McVie’s classic song ‘Songbird’ was done and dusted in the course of a night, and that took a truckload of champagne to get it over the line, so the story goes.
Of course, the French Prosecco was kind of the least The Mac were doing in the course of the Rumours sessions; and then there was the small matter of them all breaking up with each other at the same time. In comparison, and with all due respect to their rock n’ rollness, I can’t really imagine Norman Lamont and the Heaven Sent using much more than a strong brew of Tetley’s during the making of In Another Life.
According to the man himself, the original intention was simple – create an album using a small multi-track recorder in a living room, with the whole band playing live, and minimal overdubs. That, however, was in late 2015, and over two and a half years later, at least three different recording spaces, a producer, a cover designer, and a pro master wizard later, the album is finally, officially out. And yet it sounds effortless!
Norman has described the overall style as ‘pop,’ and I guess, in some ways, it may serve as the gateway drug to some of his darker material, such as ‘Fingerpuppet,’ or ‘The Last Man to Touch You,’ on the album before this, All The Time in Heaven. Nevertheless, bright and breezy folk-rock like In Another Life’s opener, ‘End of Tears,’ is hard to make sound as effortless as this. Similarly, the way Norman leans into ‘Well, I’m the type of guy…’ on the next track, ‘Green Lights All The Way,’ sounds as easy as the narrator’s lucky life, but, as I can personally testify, it takes talent – and time – to sound that easy.
Throughout, Norman’s intention to get things as good they can be shines through. ‘The Ballad of Bob Dylan’ is probably the song Norman’s known best for: but here it gets a radical treatment that keeps the core shaggy dog story front and centre whilst mixing up pace and instrumentation all around it. A modern classic!
Whilst the overall sound is what I’d describe as folk rock, or maybe acoustic rock, there are a couple of departures: the jaunty spirit of ‘In Another Life,’ is such an earworm that I can forgive him for reggae, one of my least favourite genres; and ‘Damn Grey’ and ‘Goodbye Song’ both exhibit jazz influences.
The other highlight, unsurprisingly to long-term Norman-watchers, is his facility with words. The music may sound easier than it is, but the lyrics are at all times smartly turned out, and on occasion have a hidden bite. ‘You Made Me Do It,’ with its refrain of ‘You made me this way,’ leaves the listener in no doubt who the narrator holds responsible. In another context, ‘Damn Grey’ deals with the weighty topic of depressive illness.
Favourites? Surprisingly perhaps for a fellow devotee of the Cohen/Cave dark axis, I’m really drawn to the upbeat stuff! Those sly vocals in ‘Green Lights All the Way,’ with its earworm of a tune, for example. ‘End of Tears,’ is another stand out.
Incidentally, if you go through Norman’s website to sign up for this, you get an incredibly generous package of stories behind the songs, videos, and bonus tracks. Strongly recommended, it emphasises the care, love, and sheer blood sweat and tears went into the making of the album.
It’s just that it sounds so effortless.
Andrew C Ferguson is a songwriter, member of Isaac Brutal and A Tribute to Venus Carmichael, and author of The Wrong Box. This review originally appeared here.
Some artists do their best work in early life. Others, as this new album from Norman Lamont and The Heaven Sent shows, just get better and better as time goes on, raising their game to a higher level. The album is ‘bookended’ by two optimistic, upbeat, poppy love songs.
The opener, End of Tears gets the album off to a good start with some great organ and guitar.
Then comes Green Lights All the Way, a witty tale of one of life’s winners – “I wake up in the morning and it’s always my day!” It has a fine guitar solo from John Farrell followed by an equally fine piano solo from John Lawrence, who provides all the keyboard parts.
The Ballad of Bob Dylan (2017) is an update of one of Norman’s best-known story songs. It begins and ends in a slow jazzy tempo with an upbeat section in the middle. There is some fine trumpet work from Phil Ramsay and some very tasty organ too. It’s great to see an old song recycled with a new twist.
Next up is Bamboo, a reworking of River Come Down written by Dave Van Ronk in 1961. David Kenneth Ritz Van Ronk was a massive influence on Bob Dylan and other singers in New York in the early sixties. Along with Eric Von Schmidt in Cambridge, Massachusetts he kick started the whole 1960s folk revival. After listening to Norman’s version and Dave’s original I ordered Van Ronk’s memoir, The Mayor of MacDougal Street. The lyrics of the song are hypnotic but it builds and builds into a passionate mystical crescendo with some excellent trumpet and accordion.
Then we drop the tempo and the mood changes from mystical to sadly cynical in Goodbye Song, about a relationship break up. This has a great jazz lounge feel (nice!) with some very tasteful guitar from Ged Brockie. Witty and bitter sweet lyrics chronicle the story of the end of an affair.
“You see I got this sinking feeling when you said that we needed to talk (Uh Oh!). I guess that was the signal. It was time for me to walk!”.
Next up the title track, In Another Life is an upbeat, reggae infused pop song with a great ‘singalong’ feel.
Love (As When) is my favourite track on the album. I can’t really say what it is about except that the words, “As When” introduce a series of extended metaphors about being in love, which is a mysterious and inexplicable condition.
“Here in love you can’t say what it is. If you say what it is, it isn’t that.”
Is it like the feeling of your heart pumping after climbing ‘the unforgiving stairs’ after a night of beer? Or like seeing your friends and family as ‘bitter enemies’? You can listen to this song over and over in the hope that it will yield up its meaning. You can feel it but you might not understand it. The song intensifies towards the end with some excellent piano and I think Leonard Cohen makes a cameo appearance. Or does he?
You Made Me Do It boogies along nicely with more brass and piano. Not sure what she made him do but it is clearly her fault.
The tempo drops down again for Damn Grey. Electric piano and bongos give a jazzy feel and a mood of resignation.
“Damn this grey and damn the way it takes all you have to push it away”.
Next up, Had is about loss and resignation.
“I had a memory of you but I faked it from a photograph of someone else and I had you but now you’re gone.”
The album ends on a positive note with Until I Found You, a song about redemption through finding love. The 1960s organ sound recalls the great Georgie Fame and the Blue Flames.
These are all great songs in a variety of styles. Brilliant arrangements, clever, witty, knowing lyrics and excellent musicianship from The Heaven Sent and all the guest musicians!