Christopher Rees 'Stand Fast' - Red Eye Music

The opening song of this, his sixth album, immediately finds the Welsh wizard back on more familiar ground after the horn-laden Hearts On Fire, his previous album (which was recorded with the South Austin Horns). The song opens with a robust riff of twanging Gretsch before Rees' distinctive vocal tells the tale of litigious Welsh vocalist Dorothy Squires, who was once married to Roger Moore. This is the first song that underscores the steadfast characters who people the songs and sentiments of Stand Fast.

The other key instrument in his armoury is the banjo which is often paired with electric guitar. This gives his music it's roots and grounding. There are comparisons, to a degree, with such powerful fellow travelers as Slim Cessna's Auto Club and 16 Horsepower, yet Rees is standing fast to a path that runs back to his previous albums and the creation of his recognizable sound. Christopher is a man in control of his destiny and direction, as he is a multi-instrumentalist only joined, for the most part, by drummer Dan Tilbury to create the layered sound that is the core of this record. Playing live he utilizes a full band, as occasion demands, but recording he builds the sound from the ground up. He is also the producer, engineer and mixer on the album which makes for as very personal sound and substance. The songs sound in structure as if they had their origins in the ages, that they are updated traditional songs. In truth only one song I  Will Follow follows that path. The rest are original songs and many are memorable and are among the best he has committed to public scrutiny.

They are dark, thoughtful songs of understanding and undeniable humanity. There is much in the landscape of Ree's imagining that is true to his Welsh heritage, but that will also resonate with Appalachian undertones. It is an album that opens in fine style, but one that then plays out in a context that allows his vision to be strengthened over the full ten tracks.

It is an album, a unit, but that  is not to say that individual songs do not stand out. For instance the  trumpet on Knock On My Door gives an extra edge to the song's heartfelt plea for love and longing from a reluctant recipient. It is the sound that echos the borders of Mexico as much as it might with a lone trumpet in a band hall in Wales

Rees is a striking solo performer but adds much to the resonance of his recorded work by remaining true to an original vision. Released next year, Stand Fast is staking it's place to be heard and understood for the powerful piece of music it is.

Christopher Rees & Band 'Hearts On Fire' Red Eye Music

This album represents something of a new departure for Rees as he has recorded it with The South Austin Horns and he plunges headlong into his musical soul. The soul of Otis Redding that is. It is steeped in brass and Hammond organ while still having Rees' distinctive voice at it's core. Now what passes for soul music tends to leave me cold for the most part I'm still partial to a little, Redding, Pickett and Stax Record grooves. Hearts On Fire may not appeal to purists, much as many bluegrass and country paramilitaries may have found Rees previous albums a little left of field for their tastes. Be that as it may be Christopher Rees is writer, producer and mixer as well as label boss on this outing and he has worked on this album in both Austin and Welsh studios. It is an spirited set of songs that covers a range of bases from the rampant rockabilly/rock 'n' roll of In Warm By My Fire, which links with Rees previous work. Stripped down to a simple live setting many of these songs would fit easily beside his previous songs. Here he adds that layers of well arranged brass riffs to give the songs extra propulsion and soul. Morning Light is delivered at a slower pace that give Rees room to let his voice the space to deliver a telling and troubled tale of optimist love. The songs still show a troubled soul but this time out they're allied to tingling soul tremors. The slower paced songs the ones, as mentioned where Rees vocal take on the spectre of soul's golden age. Overall I think by preference is for Rees de-horned work but this is still a substantial achievement in that he has been able to add another flavour that reflects his love of classic soul to an already open ended musical base. A song like Unstoppable which was recorded as a trio with Rees on guitars and bass, Dan Tilbury on drums and Simon Rooney still retains the overall feel but in a brass free way that shows the musical variety on offer on Hearts On Fire. It will be interesting to see where Christopher Rees takes his music in the future but here he has delivered an album that many will enjoy for its own sake and within the parameters that it has set itself.