When I first discovered that Eric Stuart, voice actor behind two of anime’s greatest characters – Brock and James from Pokémon – was a country singer, it was mainly out of morbid curiosity that I bought one of his albums. To my surprise and admiration, it turned out that, not only was he a great singer, but he was a great songwriter too.
As I am oft inclined to do, it wasn’t long before I had acquired the five CDs that made up his back catalogue, each as fantastic as the last. When I heard that he was making a new album, and needed my help to fund it on Kickstarter, I didn’t hesitate to donate my money. This was back in early 2012, and although the album wasn’t finished until mid 2013, they say that good things come to those who wait. And when my signed copy of Lipstick & Barbed Wire arrived in the post last week, and I listened to it for the first time, I realised that this was an album that had definitely been worth waiting for.
The album kicks off with My Love Can Change That, an upbeat number with a great beat, a snappy little riff, and infectiously jolly vocals. As an opening song, it sets the tone of the album well. This is a feel-good record, through and through – even the breakup songs and slow ballads, particularly Best Mistake and Cry Thirty Days And Nights, will still have you stomping your feet and pounding your fists. One of the most impressive things about the music of the Eric Stuart Band is that it isn’t afraid to break away from conventions of country music. There is definitely a strong influence of good ol’ fashion rock’n’roll in the songs, particularly in the peppy and upbeat choruses, that gives the album a rather unique and memorable sound. The album also makes good use of a different assortment of instruments – some a staple in country music, others not – with violins and organs playing a big part in many of the songs, and the track Don’t Let The Door Hit Ya has a brilliant horn arrangement that makes for a very funky little number.
The production value on the album is very high as well, with every instrument and note ringing out with an impressive clarity. Every musician on the record excels, particularly guitarist Phil Nix and violinist Maria Cohen, who both get to lay down some great solos. And Justified, a nice slow number, features some absolutely cracking guitar work from Eric Stuart’s friend and mentor, special guest Peter Frampton, who injects real passion and care into his solos. Front and centre throughout, though, is Eric Stuart’s vocals, and his has an incredibly versatile and emotional voice. Sombre and slow (At The End), upbeat and joyous (Concrete Cowboy), pained and raw (Strangers In A Strange Love), he can comfortably match his singing style to the nature of the songs, and that really adds another layer to the quality of the album. One thing that has always impressed me with the Eric Stuart Band albums is the quality of the lyrics that Eric Stuart writes, and Lipstick & Barbed Wire is no exception. Never settling for simple or self-explanatory words, the songs are often loaded with subtexts and clever meanings that might be lost on a first listen. It’s rare to find a song with intelligent lyrics, let alone a whole album, so in that respect, this (along with his other albums) is a rare treat.
With just under an hour of music, and not a single dud song among its fifteen tracks, Lipstick & Barbed Wire is another solid entry into Eric Stuart’s back-catalogue. Packed with strong vocals, additively catchy music, and surprising profound lyrics, it’s not just a great country album, it’s a great album in general.
Stand out track: Lipstick And Barbed Wire – It’s easy to see why Eric Stuart chose to name the album after this track. With a memorable chorus and some great guitar work, it’s an instantly catchy and likeable song, but it’s the fierce and raw vocal performance from Eric Stuart that really raises this track up above the rest. An instant crowd pleaser.