Welsh singer-songwriter Stephen Black’s latest album is a masterclass in down-to-earth love songs that are all exquisitely arranged and performed
tephen Black, aka Sweet Baboo, is what you might understand to be a singer-songwriter, but his approach to writing this album was quite different from the usual model. Collaborating with arranger Paul Jones, Black allowed many of the compositional aspects of The Boombox Ballads to remain in the hands of others. It’s a more traditional way of writing music, but the gamble has paid off. The result is a beautifully crafted album with more heartfelt, real-world honesty than anything I’ve heard in some time.
The album comprises almost exclusively love songs, but each is fresh, different, and above all exquisitely arranged and performed (Black and Jones clearly playing to each other’s strengths here). Part of the spontaneous feel of the album must come from its opening track Sometimes, which was recorded in one day, mixed in another, and never looked at again. Notably Black even played all the instruments on this track bar the strings.
Lyrically, Got To Hang On To You and You Are Gentle will connect immediately with music fans – they are wonderfully relatable and musical metaphors abound. Jones’s arranging comes to the fore in Two Lucky Magpies, which features great string parts that were evidently a joy to play, and The Boombox Ballad continues this theme in the form of an instrumental.
The album’s highlight is You Got Me Time Keeping, a seven minute pop-hit-cum-acid-trip. Laura Bryon sings the second part of a duet in which the writing for horns is just as quality as that for strings earlier. The verse and chorus are as catchy as they come, but before you know it you’ve been plunged into an eerie world of dissonant overtones and distant vocal echoes.
Although the remaining songs aren’t as compelling as the first six, this latest offering from Sweet Baboo is remarkably intimate and produced to an extremely high quality. It’s uplifting and always great fun – listen to it before the summer’s out.
Verdict: Fresh new love songs done brilliantly