Back in 2013/14, I reviewed a Birmingham-based artist’s latest album, and followed-up with a telephone interview with him for a major music magazine. That was Dan Whitehouse, who is doing well out there and is someone to go see.
Dan liked what I wrote and passed on my name to a friend and musical colleague of his. Chris Tye. Chris was new to me, but when I was sent his debut album, “The Paper Grenade,” he made an immediate lasting impression. An artist who is one of those guys you hear and you ask yourself why this artist is not a big star by now?
An artist delivering music on such a higher plain than many of his or her counterparts, even artists on major labels and with big bucks thrown at them, unlike the likes of Chris; releasing his own records on low budgets.
Three years later, and having just been sent his second album circa three months before its release, I am still of the opinion that this artist deserves to be up there, his name in lights, and is quite capable of making the big time with his sublime voice and song writing talents. This record really is a Wow! moment.
As good as anyone out there in the singer songwriter genre right now. His sheer class and quality totally stands up next to the likes of Ed Sheeran, Paul Simon, James Taylor and many more I could name. Yes. Really. (I am not being bribed by Chris to write this gushing praise either!)
“Stronger In Numbers,” is the stunning sound of an artist comfortable in his own skin, sure of who he is and how he wants to sound, and the result of much experience playing live and collaborating with others to develop and hone his writing chops. The voice needs no work. Do not fix what is not bust. But his writing has progressed enormously since his debut album in 2014, and his EPs “Somewhere Down The Line”, which was released in 2006/7, and “Matchbox Stand” in 2011.
This is a fully rounded, accomplished sound and a lot of that is not only down to Chris’ maturity of song writing and vocal performance, and the assembled talent surrounding him (including Dan Whitehouse on backing vocals), but much is owed to the superb production values from Mr Michael Clarke. Back in the chair after the sterling work he did on the Tye debut album, “The Paper Grenade,” and on Dan Whitehouse’s records.
It is a superbly produced record and at times; with the voice, the material, the players and the production, it is quite breath-taking and a tad overwhelming how perfect it all is. Track by track, waiting for a slip, a blemish, an error of judgement on the song choice. Didn’t happen.
There’s 11 cuts here; eight written by Tye and three co-writes, two of which were with producer Michael Clarke, who also plays guitars, piano, keyboards, drums, percussion and violin on the record, plus backing vocals. Shove a broom up his wassname and I bet old Clarkie could sweep the floor too!
Nothing is over-egged, a less is definitely more approach seeping out of each track, and the intimacy and emotion of each song lovingly presented like a new born babe – preserved and protected like lives depended on it. The songs are King, each allowed to breath and stand on their own feet. But value added where needed with a subtle and light touch.
He is singing to you. He wrote the songs for us. They are from the soul and not from a template and chasing a trend or a hit. This is a real master craftsman at work, in fact; make that two with Mr Clarke at the helm. In this throwaway, disposable age, where we can cherry pick the odd track here and there we heard on a bank advert on TV, and do not even have to leave our sofa to buy the damn thing; it is great to hear an album that screams out to be heard as a full piece of work.
In the middle of the album, Chris drops a stunning composition co-written with Jo Hamilton, “No Sing”. The song has a Richard Hawley feel to the intro, sweet low vocal. Beautiful rich strings, always building until it flies away at the end beautifully. Chris Tye backed by a full string section is something special. Apart from the sweet, dreamy, ethereal chilled stuff, the album contains some very upbeat commercial moments with tracks like “If There Is Love,” (nods to The Beatles/ Beach Boys/ ELO maybe).
Performing what he describes as “urban folk music”, Chris cites Paul Simon, Grizzly Bear, The Beatles, Nick Drake and John Martyn as significant influences. You can definitely hear the Paul Simon and George Martin thing going on across this record.
He sings about real life. He sings about his life. Our life. He sings about sticking together, about us being stronger in numbers; as the title says. What a time to release such a musical sentiment, with what is going on across the pond, and the bonkers and dangerous antics of a certain billionaire turned World leader. And all the Brexit bullshit over here. Yee Gods. But at the core of Mr Tye’s message here is hope and not wasting our life.
Two months of studio work has given us something very, very special indeed. In fact; having heard dozens and dozens of albums thus far this year, I can safely say that this is my favourite so far, and will take some beating. (That’s in many different genres too.)
Chris is unafraid to go out on a limb and show his vulnerability and maybe even a fragility. If you can move people to tears when writing a song and then singing it on a record, and make them feel something deep and meaningful and connect to their life and their world, then you have more than done your job. As I have said before; music is what emotions and feelings sound like. Chris Tye clearly knows that only too well and seemingly does what he does as naturally as breathing.
But there’s nothing self-indulgent or sombre about what he writes and what he releases on record. It is ripe for crossover into the mainstream – DJ Jo Whiley is a fan – and has a commercial edge to it. Very much a sound of today, not yesterday, despite his main influences. If Sheeran, Ezra and Bugg can do it, so can Mr Tye. (I so wanted to use the ‘old school tye’ line here, but thought better of it!) Chris has been rubbing shoulders with the right people, and has previously supported such acts as Ben Howard, Teddy Thompson, Fionn Regan, Sharon Van Etten, Rae Morris and Amy Winehouse.
A few years ago, I wrote this about Chris: “Awe inspiring vocals…this guy deserves to be heard far and wide.” I gave his first album the maximum five stars too. Well, forget “deserves to be heard…” he really MUST be heard. And if I could award more than the maximum five stars for this new album, I would. Here’s THE quote for you: “Chris Martin could only dream of writing and singing like this.” Who said that? Well, I just did. I mean it too…
· Chris will spend 2017 playing shows to support this album and completing the soundtrack for new BFI film ‘Irene’s Ghost’. He has also completed the music for a short film currently doing the rounds at film festivals across the globe called ‘Balancé’
· Stronger In Numbers is officially released on Friday 21st April as a digital download (via all major platforms). CD copies available from live shows and www.christye.co.uk He plays a special launch show in Birmingham on 22nd April.
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’