Joseph Topping,
Love, Loss & Alcohol
(self-produced, 2003)

The title gives it away, really. This is an album of seriously heartfelt lovesongs. It's dark, slow and mournful and, although I found myself needing a little light relief at times, I have to admit that I enjoyed wallowing in the depth of feeling that Joseph Topping's melancholic approach instills.

The album starts with "Two Bottles of Red," which encompasses all three elements of the title but dwells on the sometimes tricky duality of the pleasures of a good bottle of wine. It's a slow waltz with a vintage chorus: "I'm better looking/And you're better in bed/After a night of slow dancing/And two bottles of red."

The love songs are powerful with little sentimentality and the lyrics are often surprising in their freshness. In "My Constant Love," for example, "She cracks me up/Like a pool hall hustlers break/Ignites a smile that'd light the darkest room/A smile that grows like a flowers bloom/And a touch that softly says/She's my constant love."

There's a sense of nobility, too, in "I'd Die Trying" which tells us that a young man still needs to play the knight in shining armour sometimes, even if the surroundings aren't quite Camelot. It's about a young man standing up for his girl in a low-lit pool hall and taking a beating for his trouble. That still doesn't stop him from making a solemn vow even as she cradles his bloody head: "I can't always shield you from pain/I won't win every fist-fight defending your name/I can't always keep you from crying but baby/I'd die trying."

The title of "The Flame Danced Flamenco" tells you where the emotions end up in a scene that begins with a couple walking home, and our young Romeo noting, "In her eyes was affection and a fiery reflection/And the dance of a candle flame."

"Alice" is a tribute to the sheer joy of being with someone who has the capacity to smile and make you smile, too, over nothing. If I've got a quibble with the album, it would be with this song, which I still like a great deal -- I just feel that the woman with whom you fall in love a thousand times a day, every time she smiles or looks your way deserves a lighter, more celebratory and uplifting tune to match the joy expressed in the lyric. Maybe.

There's a lot to listen to here, and Laura Jones's powerful vocal support adds a great deal to the atmosphere, so much so that at times I was reminded of Gregson and Collister at their best. It's clear to me that Joseph Topping has a great future as a lyricist and a storyteller. Where he excels though, is with the wonderful "Wicked Intentions" in all its blues-bar steel guitar and mouth organ, storytelling glory. It's here that he brings music and lyric together and proves his ability to squeeze an entire short story into the space of a song. It's all about "a predator on the prowl with shifty little eyes/And wicked intentions he tries to disguise. From across the bar he spots his prey. ... He moves, slithers, slides to the place where she sits/Passing the people pumping the one-armed bandits/Checks on his reflection and ooh he's looking smooth/And with wicked intentions he makes his move."

The more I listen to this album the more I like it -- especially with a glass of red for company. It's a great start to what promises to be a great career.

- Rambles
written by Jean Lewis
published 20 September 2003