For many UK Country fans more familiar with the big name stars recording in Nashville their introduction to Alan West may well have been during the Country to Country Festival at London’s O2 Arena, at which the experienced UK singer-songwriter has appeared on the incredibly well-received pop-up stages. Those who are in tune with the UK Country scene will be aware that West is one of the most respected names on the circuit and one of our finest artists. Having originally tasted success as part of a duo ‘West and Elliott’, who picked up 3 BCMA Awards and supported the likes of Guy Clark & Townes Van Zandt, Alan branched out on his own and released his debut album ‘Songs From A Neophyte’ in 2008. The success of that project saw the singer chosen to support US star Hal Ketchum on tour, amongst others.
A second album ‘The Way Of The World’ followed in 2010, as did a 6-track EP ‘The Way It Is’ recorded in Nashville in the same year. Fans have had to wait for some time for new music from West but last month he released ‘All Things For A Reason’, which upon repeated listening proves to be more than worth the wait. Distributed by independent UK label NEO Music and produced by the singer himself, its’ 11 tracks were again recorded in Nashville. The album sees West teaming up with long-time collaborator and songwriter Steve Black, who played a part in penning all but 2 of the songs featured. The pairing works remarkably well with West’s earnest and emotive delivery bringing to life Black’s richly composed lyrics.
‘Come On Home’ is a tremendous start to the album, a shuffle straight out of Bakersfield recounting the travails of a heartbroken woman, featuring jaunty fiddle and lively vocals from West. One of only two outside songs, ‘The Way Love Is’ written by Texan artist Hugh Moffatt, is a gently rambling ode to love, given a suitably tender reading here. Picking up the tempo and adding some Spanish flair ‘Maria Delores’, with its’ accordion & baritone saxophone, comes and goes seemingly as quickly as the the titular temptress and is an absolute joy.
The sombre ‘Numbers’ finds the singer in contemplative mood and deals with the loss of loved ones, one of the many examples of incredibly vivid storytelling amongst the album’s offerings. Songwriter Steve Black painting vivid pictures delivered with real grit & authenticity by West. ‘It Pays To Be’ promotes good advice for all men interacting with the fairer sex, but has its’ tongue firmly in its’ cheek, as well as boasting strong steel guitar & flowing honky-tonk piano. Both ‘Bobby’s Idle Hour’ and ‘Hillbilly Woodbines’ continue the exceptional knack of West & Black to create worlds which their protagonists inhabit and transport us there to share those moments. A special mention to the killer line in the former track and the run-down cellar bar it describes, ‘a silent jukebox waits to see if someone will buy a memory, good or bad‘.
The other cover version amongst such splendid original material is West’s take on ‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’, originally a huge hit for John Denver in the 1970’s. West handled the new arrangement of the track here, as well as freshening up the song he also adds a welcome edginess, not to mention a fabulous vocal performance. ‘Fine Line’ reflects on the difficulty of making life’s important choices and is musically more upbeat than the heavyweight lyrics would suggest. The classic Country of ‘He Ain’t Foolin’ Me’ is one of the numerous highlights West offers fans, and finds the singer bemused that the object of his affection cannot see that her current beau is not the one for her. Title track ‘All Things For A Reason’ closes the album and is an inspirational note on which to end. Musing on the ‘journey of life’ the stirring mid-tempo track advises us all to never give up hope, amidst driving percussion and a cracking electric guitar solo.
With his ‘All Things For A Reason’ album Alan West has given eleven incredibly good reasons to be thankful for that long-awaited return to the studio. Unashamedly traditional Country with a dash of Americana thrown in for good measure, West proves to be an artist as authentic as they come. In close friend Steve Black he seems to have found a kindred spirit and a songwriter of tremendous talent, able to provide the singer with material which fits him like a glove. As for West he has a warm and rich vocal delivery, with a real air of authority enabling him to expertly handle the album’s significant themes of life & love. Hopefully it will not be another 4 years before West next releases a collection of songs, until then ‘All Things For A Reason’ will remain an album to savour.