Stevie Lawrence,
Standing Alone
(Lochshore, 2002)

Scots musician Stevie Lawrence is probably best known as a member of Iron Horse, but this is his first solo album, as may be ascertained by the title. Don't, however, let the words "solo album" make you think that this is a collection of one man and a guitar. On the contrary, this is a collection of one man and his many multitracks. Lawrence is quite the multi-instrumentalist and makes no bones about it on this CD, an amalgamation of nearly everything that he plays well and some things that he plays less than well. His intonation on dobro, for example, leaves much to be desired, as in "Soon," and he's really no wizard on whistle, as his work on "The Joker" proves.

The first track is a rousing set of jigs on which Lawrence plays tenor banjo, acoustic guitar, guitar/bouzouki, mandola, mandolin and percussion. It works nicely, but the album often feels overproduced. "Scottish Gothic," the second track, sounds more layered, so that as things proceed it's difficult for the tune to shine brightly through. "Banklands," with Lawrence on only two instruments, makes a clearer statement, and on "Psycho Magnet," the layering works quite well, with the distinctive voicings of hurdy gurdy, Scottish smallpipes, mandocello and bass, all bolstered by percussion. The result is great fun.

The sound, however, tends to get a little muddy when Lawrence plays an assortment of stringed instruments at once, as on "McBrides" and "Hedgehope Hill," in both of which he plays four picked string instruments. Things work out best when the voicings are more distinctive and it becomes more of an actual solo record than a band record with all the instruments played by one person. At times, when Lawrence goes from one instrument to another for solo after solo, it reminds one of when the young Donny Osmond would leap from instrument to instrument during his family's show (only Lawrence plays better than Donny ever did). Another problem is a slightly artificial sound to the mix. At times there's little natural decay of the sound as there would be were several players playing together, and often a sound will just drop out (as at the end of some tunes in the "Megajig Set"). And there's also the question of how good Lawrence's instrumental chops on many of these instruments really are, multiplied and multi-tracked as they are. His solos would certainly stand out better if fewer of his other musical selves surrounded him. More is not always better, and as the best musicians have always known, a great deal is expressed in silence, but with very few exceptions, there are few silences here. Lawrence seems to feel called upon to fill every gap with sound. While the "South Park House Jigs" set is a fine and rollicking collection of tunes, it's nearly crushed by overproduction, with too much accompaniment -- five stringed instruments this time around which create a constant noise underneath, giving none of the well-played solos a chance to really shine. The final track is the only one that's a true solo -- a minute-and-a-half piece played on nylon-strung guitar, and it's a thing of absolute beauty, but too little (or just little enough) too late.

Those not as adverse to multiple tracking as I am may enjoy this CD far more than I did, but I can't help but think that Standing Alone, both the title and the act, was a bit of musical hubris that didn't quite work out. Lawrence should determine his strengths and play to them, and next time around get top-notch dobro and whistle players to back him up, as well as some other simpatico colleagues. You can indeed record an actual solo album with other musicians in the studio, and I hope that in his next album he'll share the string burdens and share his love for the music he plays.

- Rambles
written by Chet Williamson
published 19 April 2003

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