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At a first glance, the front cover photograph of ‘Precious Hours’, the new album by Wilby, seems both conventional and also relatively unassuming. It shows a thoughtful young woman walking up the island of a nearly empty dual carriageway on what seems to be a sunny day. A second, more detailed look at the photo, however, reveals something more disturbing. Despite the apparently warm weather, the woman, Rosie Wilby, Wilby’s singer, songwriter and principal member, is wearing a thick sheepskin coat. While, this behaviour in itself, although perhaps a little eccentric, is not particulary abnormal, her feet, twisted oddly inwards as she trudges up the highway, are in contrast completely bare. As one stares at these juxtaposing two images, and then again at her haunted and distant face, one realises with sudden clarity and horror that there is something desperately and terribly wrong.
The songs on ‘Precious Hours’ are built out of similarly powerful , but striking contrasts . An album that grows with each subsequent listening, it is a glorious and sumptious pop record with firmly-crafted Brian Wilson infuenced melodies and grooves and gorgeously-textured, swooping vocal harmonies. Pleasant and light on the ear, but far more also , it is too a record of impressive depth that deals convincingly with heavy-duty themes and which includes suicide and bereavement amongst its subject matter.
‘Precious Hours’ is both Wilby’s debut album and is the first CD album release of Catflap Recordings, a new label set up by Rosie Wilby to promote her own work and that of other female singer-songwriters.
Rosie Wilby, who comes originally from Lancashire in Northern England, has spent many years living and working in London as a freelance music journalist. In recent years she has, however also turned to songwriting and has already released, also on Catflap, under the Wilby moniker three singles.The first two of these ‘Boredom’ and ‘Underachievers’ were released on cassette, while the third and most recent one ‘You Were Loved’, a track which also appears on ‘Precious Hours’, came out on CD.
The opening song on ‘Precious Hours’ , ‘This Time’, uses jangly guitars to striking effect as backing to a soaring and fluctuating vocal about a rollercoaster relationship of many years standing. “So it took us twelve years to shelve this relationship in time” Wilby sings with sugary irony . “Don't know what possessed my mind !”. Lush ballad ‘Take My Hand’ and the acoustic ‘Your Ghost’, which features a mandolin as one of its main instruments, are both about the death of her mother. Silky vocals on the gently seductive ‘Dreams’, a recent winner of the Songworks songwriting competition, are directed towards a lover who has run out on his partner, while the shimmering ‘You Were Loved’ is about a lost opportunity and “the one who got away”. The exuberant and acidic ‘The Day that Stephanie Jumped’ meanwhile is scornfully addressed to the older lover of a schoolgirl who has killed herself, after he has dumped her.
This is album of both depth and assurance. With its subtle blend of soft sounds and harder themes, it is a sophisticated record and one which will prove to have a lasting durability. One never finds out what that photograph is really about, but it hardly matters. ‘Precious Hours’ is both a first-rate debut and an album of very high quality.
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