Midway Fair “The Habit Of Fear” – Americana UK

Midway Fair “The Habit Of Fear” – Americana UK

Enjoyable album marks return after eleven year hiatus for band from Baltimore.

With, ‘The Habit Of Fear’, Baltimore’s Midway Fair finally deliver their fourth album more than a full decade after their last official release, ‘The Distance Of The Moon At Daybreak’. back in 2011During that time fans haven’t totally been deprived of new material with the release of an EP, ‘Most Distant Star’, in 2014, followed by an album of demo tracks, ‘Monsters’ in 2019, whilst band leader Jon S Patton has kept busy with a string of solo albums, the most recent being last years, ‘Pirate A.M. Waves’. To be honest, Midway Fair are very much Patton’s band, being lead vocalist, multi instrumentalist, main songwriter and co-producer, but here joined by Chris Freeland on production as well as most percussion, and with contribution from Jo Scala on guitar, Rick Reader on bass, and Chris Hamilton on drums and backing vocals this feels and sounds much more like a band project.

The album opens with, ‘Altai’, a serene burial ode in a frozen landscape of snow, and as Patton sings the final lines, “Buried in aquamarine, become a little strip of green”, against some haunting cello playing from Kristin Jones you get a sense of the sweeping cinematic story-songs that are a feature of his writing, whilst Jen Parde’s playing of the meditation bowls helps complete the feel of absence and loss. From there it’s straight into the title track where the harmonies echo back to the sound of Gene Clark’s classic 70’s album, ‘No Other’, or more recently early Fleet Foxes, but here with a cutting edge from the guitars which helps to support the tension conveyed in the narrative.

Throughout the album there is a constant and clearly deliberate juxtaposition between the joyous melodies and their bright coloured arrangements against the lyrical exploration of impending terror and momentary respite. What keeps the listener transfixed is the sweeping range of subject matter that Patton’s stories inhabit, exploring the sibling relationships of love and rivalry in such songs as, ‘Dyslinguany’, and, ‘Hold Tight’, whilst, ‘What Kind Of Heart Beats‘, draws us into a new cold war movie full of skulduggery and revenge in a style faintly reminiscent of The Waterboys . There is also a strong pastoral connection running through the album, but here again the mood is dark set against a background of war as on, ‘Won’t Grow Here’, or the apocalyptic angle on, ‘The Language Of Flowers’, with it’s tale of the last man on earth tending to his radioactive garden, holding on to hope long after all hope has gone. All this told against a musical backdrop of lush harmonies, strong rhythms and stinging guitar lines that immediately draw to mind such luminaries as Richard Thompson and Mark Knopfler. The album closes with the fittingly entitled, ‘Long Goodbyes’, with Patton singing, “I don’t want to break the spell, but all dreamers must give in and wake”, reminding us right to the end that life’s harsh realities tend to outweigh our hopes and dreams, and yet even now at this late stage he continues to offer a glimmer of hope that emanates throughout the album, “But while I’m here, you’ll have all my love”.

This is an album that continues to deliver on repeated listening, both with its lyrical themes and musical arrangements revealing numerous layers and hidden depths, displaying a breadth of influences, including 70’s tinged Celtic Soul, and yet at the same time feeling very current and of its time. It may be eleven years between albums, which is excessive under any circumstances, but it’s a thoroughly enjoyable album up there with the best of this years which deserves to reach a wider audience.

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