New Town Jack is a folk/acoustic act based in Oxfordshire and Dorset in the UK. The band gets its roots from the blues, acoustic and folk music from all around the world and from such songwriting influences as M.Ward, David Byrne, Kings Of Convenience, Paul Simon, John Martyn and Tom Waits. Originally part a two-piece folk band, New Town Jack started out a blues act but drifted into playing more folk – the songs on their debut EP is a result of this transition.
Familiar Stranger is a collection of five songs about strangers, focusing on the grey area between mystery and discovery. The opening “Change the Rules” has a stripped-down sound of acoustic and cool, backing vocals with just a tambourine for an added beat. The style reminded me of the more folkish numbers by The Beatles and The Kinks. “Let Me Be” features a fuller, rocking sound on the acoustic with a style that’s more pop and familiar. The ending, “I want you to be with me / I want a dreaming man” was a very nice surprise which broke up the song in two parts. The lyrics are basically about telling someone, possibly a lover, to lay off and let me be me.
“Back into Nowhere” begins with a mysterious sound and intricate playing on the acoustic. Piano playing chimes in after the chorus, adding some nice texture. Overall, this song was very soothing and mellow, and I thought it was the best example of New Town Jack’s sound. The lyrics get really mysterious – “a man dressed in a white suit, black shirt and a red armband” who shows the singer’s former lover what’s inside the suitcase he brings. “Number 9” is another mellow tune that flows nicely along on the acoustic. Some added guitar work and backing vocals give this number a beautiful sound. The words – “Hey number 9 / You’re looking so cold…You’re a pleasure to see… You’re standing so still.” Could be anybody’s guess as to what the lyrics mean.
“Invisible Amelia” has a lot of great textures and layers, with the vocals and then a key change on the chorus. I was impressed and found this last song very enjoyable. The words tell the tale of a girl named Amelia, who, by guessing at the lyrics, is an introvert or maybe just someone who’s a little more anti-social than most. The part where it goes – “oh what a pleasure it is” sounded much like Paul McCartney’s style of arranging words to the rhythm – very nice. All in all, I found Familiar Strangers to be a cool, mellow sounding EP with some light and at times, mysterious vibes. The added backing harmonies and extra musical elements centered around an acoustic folk style is what stood out the most for me.
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