Spell on a Tin Drum Reviews...
“I can’t recommend it highly enough”
"...confident work and a lesson in meticulous craftsmanship resulting in a concise and lean set of songs that are bursting with creative ideas and performed with the utmost care and ability. His best yet".
“Great rootsy feel…with some lovely harmonic twists”
“Enhancing a growing reputation as one of Britain’s finer songwriters. …it confirms that he’s also a gifted guitarist…exquisite fingerpicking beautifully complements a nicely judged vocal performance”
[Thumbs Up] Proper job...a lovely picking style and a distinctly English turn of phrase.
4/5 Stars: “A gentle yet compelling listen…this is a seriously good EP”
“The songs are perfectly crafted and full of warmth and intimate moments. This is a record well worth picking up”
July 2017– Full Review below...
“…it is rare to hear a songwriter so astutely match up words with music so that one complements the other to perfection”
“a truly talented songwriter”
“Circles is a small, bright gem of a record”
July 2017 - Full review below...
The “…fine point where voice, music and lyrics come together in a perfect symbiosis, feeding off each other in a unique way…worth its weight in gold”
“…intricate and inviting lyrics reach out through the softly engaging melodies and multitude of hooks”
“…an intriguing and absorbing listen, observational and contemplative”
“…an overarching impression of immediacy that gives the narratives an urgency to convey their messages, which makes this compulsive listening”
“‘Curious Heart’is utterly addictive”
June 2017 – Full review below…
"Alex Seel’s Other Paths EPis a hugely impressive musical calling card, with each of its five songs showcasing a different side of this multi-talented musician’s skills. His ear for harmonies and his subtlety as a lyricist are revelatory and it’s to be hoped that a full-length album follows before too long".
Aug 2015 - Full review below...
“…charming finger-picking skills…honest, likeable voice…Seel’s songs are open, sparse and earthy. …‘Oh The Glamour’…would sit comfortably on Radio 2’s current play list…Seel is certainly one to watch”.
Oct 2015 - Full review below...
Rolling Stone Magazine (Italy)
“…a mastery of fingerpicking techniques and a repertoire of unusual chords; a fine poet with a very personal vocal style”
"His songs have echoes both of Nick Drake and Bert Jansch, two of his leading sources of musical inspiration, and listening to Alex in concert is balm to the soul…"
Oct 2013 - Full translation below...
"‘Shifting Sands’ is the perfect showcase of a fine songsmith and artist. A strong second release from an artist deserving of a lot more exposure".
Oct 2013- Full review below...
Tom Robinson (via Fresh On The Net)
ALEX SEEL - Quietus
You can tell quite literally within the first five seconds of “Quietus” that we’re in the presence of a master guitarist - on this exquisite, understated solo instrumental by Alex Seel. No flashy noodling up and down the fretboard is needed: from Bert Jansch and Davy Graham through to Richard Thompson and Richard Durrant, guitarists of this calibre have nothing to prove. For the true musician playing is a means of communication, not an end in itself. There’s nothing more to say about this track that you can’t hear for yourself. Apart from the fact that it’s the final track on Alex’s newly released album Spell On A Tin Drum - which also includes vocals, drums and plenty of musical surprises. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Maverick Magazine - Spell on a Tin Drum
Spell-binding lyrics within the country-folk genre.
Alex Seel is a talented musician and his latest album, 'Spell on a Tin Drum' could not make that any clearer. His gorgeous vocals dominate this album, evoking Paul Siebel in lyrics and hints of Jeff Buckley in sound - he depicts an impulsive nature while also remaining grounded in clarity.
A somewhat quiet album that doesn't truly step outside the boundaries, Seel manages to grasp the listener within the poetry of his words. Practical Mind stood out in particular - simple progressions with only Seel and his guitar sounding similar to Don McLean's Vincent in it's poetic imagery and bittersweet delivery. Blue Sky in our Hand is also a definite highlight - dreamy and warm with added effects that make it indulgent. The added instrumentation combined with Seel's voice make it all the more delightful - the trombone, violin and drums throughout each track weave perfectly amongst the spell-binding lyrics, making a successful album within the country-folk genre.
Album: Spell On A Tin Drum
Alex Seel's new album 'Spell on a Tin Drum' manages to convey a personal and intimate feel whilst still keeping a wry eye on the world outside, so it's no surprise to hear it was partly written in a caravan on the west coast of Ireland, and mostly recorded under a bed.
Opening with a surprising waltz, with hints of jazz in the chord progression, the album progresses through several moods - intimate singer/songwriter, rowdy brass bands, infinite sustain guitar - but never strays too far from the essential elements of Seel's excellent guitar playing and vocals.
Eyes Wider Than is a relaxed but driving blues-folk tune with a great pop-hook chorus and just one example where the track sequencing of this album really shines - the fuller sound highlights the intimacy of the following track Practical Mind, a solo guitar and vocal performance ruminating on someone too busy with their day to day 'to-do' lists to notice that life is going on around them.
In fact the entire album is a triumph of sequencing, each track with its own personality yet still managing to work as a part of the whole - it's a testament to Seel's songwriting and arrangement chops that he knows exactly which songs to strip back to their core and which ones to embellish.
Although the contrast between tracks is sometimes surprising, it's a welcome surprise, and never jarring. Stand out track The River hints at Jansch and Renbourn with its medievally-tinged guitar part and meter crossing vocal; Grass Is Greener combines 'Rainy Day Women'-style Salvation Army Brass and doo-wop backing vocals; and Blue Sky In Our Hands even has traces of Wilco about it (not just in the, perhaps knowing, title.)
A short album at nine tracks in just over half an hour, Spell On A Tin Drum is one of those rare things - an album that makes you want to drop the needle on the first track again as soon as the last notes of poignant instrumental 'Quietus' ring out.
As a statement of songwriting talent, of versatility whilst upholding an artistic voice, and of Alex's skills at arrangement, Spell On A Tin Drum couldn't be stronger or more accomplished - yet it manages throughout to maintain a mood of modesty and confidence, and therein lies the charm of this record.
Folk Radio UK - Spell on a Tin Drum
by Glenn Kimpton 10 May, 2019
Londoner Alex Seel‘s latest LP certainly does not sound like a project written in a caravan in remote west Ireland and recorded under a bed back in London. The songs are meticulously crafted and the instrumentation is well thought out, never letting anything drown out Seel’s soft vocals and excellent guitar playing. Indeed, opener ‘Take this Guitar’, with a double-tracked acoustic line adding subtle Spanish flavour to the piece, waits until the second verse before a soft violin part considerately enters the mix. The strings do swell slightly as the song develops, but the finger-picked line, something Alex is undoubtedly adept at, remains in the fore with his voice. The vocal is uncannily similar to Steve Forbert from Jackrabbit Slim days in its gentle sweetness and this song is reminiscent of ‘Make it all so Real’, the best song from that album, but I could also detect welcome hints of Steve Tilston‘s work in the playing and singing.
Spell on a Tin Drum is Seel’s second full-length album and his first release since 2017’s well-regarded Circles EP, and it is a short (thirty-one minutes), sharp and broad-minded set of songs that, while all building on that acoustic guitar core, certainly enjoy adding to the musical palette throughout. Take the deep brass notes that introduce ‘Grass is Greener’ as a kind of old fashioned jazz waltz; you would think it is all a bit much, but the production is too sharp to overdo the key vocal line, here having a hint of Paul McCartney about it. The acoustic is still audible of course, and it keeps the song grounded with a piano refrain backing it, but the silky trumpet lines really lift this song and give it a feeling of romance and chamber grandeur which is a lot of fun. It is a nicely placed song too, coming in after ‘Practical Mind’, a far slighter piece, with Seel playing unaccompanied, but one of quiet beauty (admittedly, I do always favour an underdog). It is a simply structured song, with unpretentious playing and it is in and out within just after two and a half minutes, but the track order is effective, with ‘Eyes Wider Than’, an upbeat and more traditional pop song, coming before it.
More proof of the range of styles that Seel explores here while remaining in singer-songwriter territory comes in the shape of ‘Blue Sky in our Hands’, an altogether more proggy effort, with an unexpected Pink Floyd flavour. The decision works well partly because of the nuances of Seel’s vocals, the cleanliness of which suit the more disparate nature of this arrangement and it makes for an album highlight and a bold song to put as the centrepiece. And again the set list is essential here in that the following track is another solo piece, with Seel displaying more of his acoustic picking skills in an intricate part. ‘The River’ is short and spare, which, as well as being appropriate to the serene subject matter, is as satisfying in its own way as the more diverse arrangements explored on ‘Grass is Greener’ and ‘Blue Sky’. It is a sibling of ‘Practical Mind’ and as strong as that piece, with them both working beautifully as little clean nuggets in the mix.
Elsewhere, ‘Before the Sun Goes Down’ begins with brushed drums and a deliberately restrained and cyclical guitar part that seems happy to nestle a step back from the microphone. The lightly distorted electric guitar that cameos here is also effective in giving the song a shot of something slightly more dangerous that contrasts the ‘come on meet me before the sun goes down’ lyrical refrain. But it is the percussion running through this song that really delights, especially alongside the acoustic guitar, which dances around more towards the end. Lead single ‘Satellites’ is a far more straight forward affair, with strummed guitar backing an innocent song laying down a simple message of enduring love in a crazy world through neat and sharp song writing.
Unexpectedly, the album ends with a solo guitar instrumental song in ‘Quietus’. I love how this piece contrasts the songs that have come before and strips everything back, bringing things to a close with the most modest of tools in the acoustic guitar. Here I can really hear the influence of Bert Jansch and John Renbourn and the comparisons are justified. Although the playing is again unpretentious and understated, the notes are very clear and sharp and the melody and mood of the piece is perfectly pitched. In a way, it is the strongest track on Tin Drum, in that it uses the simplest of effects – a string bend here and a hammer-on there – to create a beautiful and quite gripping mini-drama. It is a cheeky teaser of a tune too; Seel just about starts to get into a groove with a bright new melody after almost bringing things to a halt, when the song begins to fade, ending the album by leaving us wondering where the next part was heading. Clever stuff indeed, and probably a very healthy place to leave a listener.
Alex Seel is clearly a musician who loves voice and guitar music and is more than able to craft an excellent album using those tools, but he also is an experimenter and happy to put meat on the bones of his songs. And that is done very skilfully on Spell on a Tin Drum, with no elements tripping over themselves or anything else. Indeed, what impresses and resonates most is how these nine songs all hang together to create a satisfying whole. It is confident work and a lesson in meticulous craftsmanship resulting in a concise and lean set of songs that are bursting with creative ideas and performed with the utmost care and ability. His best yet.
Folking.com - Spell on a Tin Drum
by Mike Davies 15 May 2019
Mostly written in a caravan on the west coast of Ireland and recorded under his bed in London, Seel’s softly sung second album often resonates with that sense of intimacy and seclusion while also showcasing his virtuoso guitar work. The album sets out the latter’s stall with the slow waltzing ‘Take This Guitar’, basically an ode to his six string, the paths they’ve travelled and the stories they’ve told, augmented by Toni Geiling’s violin and viola. His friskier, bluesy ragtime chops are in evidence on the subsequent rhythmically choppy ‘Eyes Wider Than’.
The pace falls back for the spare, reflective ‘Practical Mind’ (“still seeking love while fencing off the garden”), Tom White bringing a New Orleans trombone feel to the slow walk rhythms of the break-up number ‘Grass Is Greener’ while the ethereal atmosphere of the floatingly dreamy ‘Blue Sky In Our Hands’ suggests a folksy Pink Floyd.
Fingerpicked with a medieval troubadour feel, ‘The River’ is another introspective stripped back number about the passage of time, shuffling into the vaguely bluesy drifting manner of ‘Before The Sun Goes Down’ with its hint of distorted electric guitar, the final song being the strummed 60s flavoured waltzing ‘Satellites’, an enduring love song given an apocalyptic 21st century twist in lines like “When all our data has been hacked by/Some kid in a basement with mud in his eye/Well I’ll still be loving you” that manages to squeeze the words oligarch and megalomaniac into the same line.
It ends with a calmed, meditative instrumental, ‘Quietus’, with its Jansch and Renbourn echoes, sustaining the album’s relaxed, low key warmth to the final notes, a spell well cast.
Rockol - Spell on a Tin Drum
Il fingerpicking di Alex Seel
Alex Seel, nato a Londra, cresciuto nel Devon, maturato sulle coste irlandesi della penisola di Dingle e tornato infine a Londra per affermarsi professionalmente è un artista interessante del nuovo folk
Recensione di Redazione
Di fronte a un oceano dove si rincorrono selvaggiamente onde di R&B/hip-hop, Techno, Rock e Pop ogni tanto è piacevole lasciarsi cullare dalla dolce marea sonora del New Folk. Artisti come Bon Iver, Mumford & Sons, Iron and Wine hanno aperto la strada rivitalizzando la cultura Folk arricchendo la cromia armonica e melodica di una cultura musicale nobile ma forse troppo legata all'ortodossia; quello che è stato per anni uno stile di nicchia grazie a loro è diventato un trend popolare molto diffuso in tutto il mondo.
Alex Seel, nato a Londra, cresciuto nel Devon, maturato sulle coste irlandesi della penisola di Dingle e tornato infine a Londra per affermarsi professionalmente è diventato oggi uno degli artisti più interessanti di questo genere. Puntiglioso studioso della tecnica chitarristica di maestri come Bert Jansch, Leo Kottke e John Martyn e appassionato affettivamente al Blues degli anni 60/70, in questo suo terzo album scritto in parte in una roulotte sulla costa occidentale dell'Irlanda e per lo più registrato a Londra, allarga i suoi orizzonti sonori.
Si parte infatti con "Take This Guitar", una ballata in 3/4 che racconta il suo amore per una chitarra artigianale (Alex ne ha una collezione preziosissima) arrangiata con l'accompagnamento di un quartetto d'archi. Una storia di viaggi e momenti di una vita itinerante al fianco di una fedele compagna dal suono sincero e squillante; forse il brano più romantico del disco. Si volta pagina con il soft rock blueseggiante di "Eyes Wider Than", con il groove della batteria che ricorda Get Back e l'incalzante fraseggio della chitarra che sottolineano la frenesia che contraddistingue la società di oggi. Segue "Practical Mind", una classica ballata "chitarra e voce" morbida e intimistica; una breve parentesi per introdurre il brano più divertente dell'album: "Grass Is Greener", in puro Slow Dixieland che mischia il profumo festoso di New Orleans con quello dei sigari dei club di Londra più conservatori per dipingere con ironia tipicamente britannica l'infelice scelta di uscire dall'Europa in nome di un patriottismo un po' snob ormai obsoleto. Splendido l'arrangiamento dei fiati, in particolare l'assolo di trombone. Con "Blue Sky in Our Hands" cambia di nuovo lo scenario acustico: i suoni elettronici diventano rarefatti e un delicato e prolungato effetto larsen della chitarra fa da tappeto al brano più onirico dell'album. Si torna quindi alla familiare sonorità acustica di "The River", un morbido madrigale che introduce "Before Sun Goes Down", un soft blues che s'incattivisce nell'inciso. Si arriva infine al pezzo più pop: "Satellites", scelto come singolo per presentare l'album. Quello che più sorprende di questa canzone Country è la purezza e la semplicità: il giro armonico è un classico e anche l'arrangiamento è scontato, ma alla fine la melodia così vera e spontanea e la storia di questo amore che nulla al mondo può incrinare ne fanno un vero inno all'ottimismo e alla positività. L'album si conclude con "Quietus", un magistrale e delicato esercizio di stile solo per chitarra acustica.
"Spell on aTin Drum" è un album ricco di emozioni diverse, dai testi provocatori, ironici e al tempo stesso pieni di un dolce intimismo, impreziosite da una vocalità calda e coinvolgente. Alex è uno che sa leggere le nuvole, con la mente sporca della polvere delle ali di una farfalla, con il cuore ombreggiato di poesia e le dita sapienti di un fingerpicking funambolico.
MusicheParole - Spell on a Tin Drum
Il londinese Alex Seel, qui al secondo album in studio, se non andiamo errati, è un ottimo chitarrista acustico e vocalist (basti solo l’iniziale spanish tinge della significativa Take This Guitar), che in un disco decisamente curato, nei suoni, in certi forbiti e misurati arrangiamenti, nella limpidezza delle linee, anche quando avvolte da un più ampio scenario timbrico (si ascolti la luminosa corale di ottoni in Grass Is Greener), snocciola abilmente una creativa manciata di song, tanto senza pretese quanto intelligentemente intrise di riferimenti. Seel rievoca alla sua maniera i vari John Renbourn e Bert Jansch (per esempio nella più intarsiata ed elegante The River), Wizz Jones (come in Practical Mind), la classica spensieratezza di Paul McCartney (nel ritornello di Eyes Wider Than) o i Pink Floyd trasognati e melodici di A Pillow Of Winds (si ascolti l’aerea e rallentata Blue Sky In Our Hands), con ariosa naturalezza e quasi una sorta di dimessa non curanza. Un nuovo artigiano della canzone britannica. Peccato per la brevitas. Marco Maiocco
Northern Sky - Spell on a Tin Drum
06.06.19 (Allan Wilkinson)
Often singer songwriter albums, with no specific points of reference, covers for example, or that old famous guitar player who contributes a solo via email from his Malibu beach house, are sometimes difficult to write about. Then there’s always the sad back story of broken hearts along the road, personal tragedy or that specific lost weekend no one speaks of anymore. In the case of Alex Seel’s new album Spell on a Tin Drum, we don't need to rely on anything other than the songs themselves, which are immediately accessible and thoroughly engaging. Apparently written for the most part in a caravan on the west coast of Ireland, which is probably as good a place as any to come up with this sort of craftsmanship, the nine songs are highly melodic, beautifully arranged and feature some fine contributions, notably Tom White’s bluesy trombone on 'Grass is Greener' and Toni Geiling’s sweeping violin/viola accompaniment on the album opener 'Take This Guitar'. If identifying an influence or indeed a precedence for Alex Seel’s sound, Tim Buckley's Happy/Sad period springs to mind, especially on 'Before the Sun Goes', the resemblance of which is slightly uncanny. As a dyed-in-the-wool Buckley head, I return to this one a lot, as should you.
[Thumbs Up]Alex Seel Circles(EP) (Alex Seel). Proper job, triple threat troubadour with a lovely picking style and a distinctly English turn of phrase. Poor Boy shares its title with a Nick Drake song but recalls 1970s Wizz Jones, while The Island reveals a McCartneyesque melodic faculty.
“A gentle yet compelling listen.
Alex Seel seems to be keeping his fans on the edge – since ‘Shifting Sands’ came out in 2013, to mass praise, all we’ve had since is an EP in 2015, but now there’s something else to get stuck into. Unfortunately for his fans, it’s another EP, but on the flipside, it’s brilliant. Writing sublime folk music seems to come naturally to Seel, and EP opener – and self-titled name – ‘Circles’ kicks off things in excellent fashion, with masterful fingerpicking, and this is a continuous theme throughout the EP. ‘Curious Heart’ takes this onto another level, while ‘Broken Faucet’ and ‘Poor Boy’ have a full band joining the party, with very good results. Seel’s stock will continue to rise following this EP, and all this is going to do is increase demand for a new album – hopefully, we can see that sooner rather than later, as this is a seriously good EP” - Christian Brown
Enhancing a growing reputation as one of Britain’s finer songwriters, ALEX SEEL returns with the Circles EP. A lyrical exploration of life’s pitfalls & freedoms, it confirms that he’s also a gifted guitarist, something particularly evident on songs such as ‘Poor Boy’ and ‘Curious Heart’ where his exquisite fingerpicking beautifully complements a nicely judged vocal performance.
July 2017. By Adam Jenkins
The well-travelled Alex Seel is back with an EP follow up to 2015's Other Paths and the critically acclaimed Shifting Sands in 2013. Music may have led him from Devon, to London, to Ireland, and back to London again, but his travels have clearly bled back into his songs. Comparisons to the likes of Nick Drake and Bert Jansch certainly aren't too far from the mark, with his delicate finger picking style, and understated vocals.
Circles is an impressively varied EP, each of the songs different in feel to the rest. The title track is a gentle melodious with the intricate finger picking style right at the fore. The vocals here feel deliberately softened, allowing the song to meander along at a lighter pace which allows the beauty to shine through. Broken Faucet introduces Sam Winwood on drums and Matt Prime on keyboards, which leads to a fuller sound, but they act to highlight the guitar and the warm vocals of Seel, which is how it should be.
Poor Boy is a little more bluesy, and is one of the stronger songs on the CD. Seel's vocals are particularly unleashed in the chorus, which with the band backing him almost transforms this into a crowd friendly indie track. The Island is a great folk rock track, with a gentle poetic beauty to it, dream-like and ethereal. Curious Heart is a return to Circles solo style, which perfectly highlights the lyrics, and proves the comparisons with Drake are well founded.
The EP finishes with acoustic versions of Broken Faucet, Poor Boy and The Island. These are far from superfluous additions, each giving the listener a whole new perspective.
Circles is a wonderful EP, and proves that Alex Seel is an artist of considerable talent. The songs are perfectly crafted and full of warmth and intimate moments. This is a record well worth picking up.
Folk Radio UK July 2017. By Thomas Blake
Alex Seel likes to take his time. Since 2013’s critically acclaimed album Shifting Sands all we’ve had to keep us going is one five-track EP – 2015’s excellent Other Paths. Now he’s back with another EP which sees him combine the winning formulas of those two previous releases – the folky prettiness of the former and the grittier, harder-edged contemporary protest songs of the latter – to come up with something that is, if anything, better than either.
Seel has often been compared to some of the greats of the folk music scene, notably Bert Jansch and Nick Drake, and indeed opening title track Circles sees him drift in on a lovely, fingerpicked guitar motif, influenced, perhaps, by Jansch, but gentler and somewhat more baroque in its approach. In fact, it veers closer at times to Jansch’s old musical sparring partner John Renbourn, and given the song’s lyrics has a fittingly cyclical feel to it.
Broken Faucet sees the introduction of a full band. The fingerpicking prowess is still evident, however, and the melody jogs along with a catchiness that would be the envy of many a radio-friendly country-pop superstar. Sure, the traces of Americana are strong, and there is even a touch of Bruce Springsteen about the windblown, road-weary electric guitar solo that concludes the song, but there is also a distinct but mysterious Englishness that emanates from the heart of the record, the same kind of low-key that made artists like Nick Drake and Robyn Hitchcock so instantly recognisable. In Seel’s case, it comes, at least in part, from his voice, which is warm and well-travelled without ever being overly saccharine or mannered.
That voice comes to the fore on the bounding, bluesy, Poor Boy. It sees Seel come back to the socially driven subjects he explored on Other Paths. Lyrically, it is subtle enough to avoid preachiness while the music is confident and forthright, anchored by Sam Winwood’s adroit drumming.
The Islandis maybe the most fully realised combination of full-band drive and fingerpicked pastoralia, its understated folk-rock template concealing a host of memorable hooks. Seel’s precision playing finds an effective counterpoint in Keith Abingdon’s slide guitar.
Curious Heartsees him return to a purely solo approach, although the song’s gentleness is deceptive: the lyrics manage to be both timely and timeless, concerns that are undoubtedly contemporary are handled with a quiet, universal wisdom. Jansch is again a musical touchstone, as are Paul Simon and the much underrated Ralph McTell.
As well as the five original tracks on Circles we are treated to three ‘acoustic mixes’ of the three full band tracks, Broken Faucet, Poor Boyand The Island. They make for a worthwhile addition, providing something of an insight into the songwriting process while also showcasing the dexterity of Seel’s playing and the depth of his singing. Broken Faucetbecomes a crisply strummed traveller’s blues, the dark humour of the lyrics become even more apparent, the chorus more prominent. Poor Boy’s verses gain a lo-fi, old-timey feel that chimes well with the song’s subject, while The Islandtakes on a bittersweet note, full of a yearning for freedom that encapsulates the entire EP’s lyrical preoccupation.
Circles is Alex Seel’s most personal release to date. His voice is a thing comprised of equal parts comfort and mystery, and it perfectly suits the songs, which are intimate but at the same time just a little bit untamed. The lyrics are full references to return: coming back to cherished places or returning to oneself on a more metaphysical level, and the music is immensely self-assured without ever losing its hint of vulnerability. In fact, it is rare to hear a songwriter so astutely match up words with music so that one complements the other to perfection. It might seem like a basic thing, bet when it actually occurs you know you are in the company of a truly talented songwriter. Seel is certainly one of those, and Circles is a small, bright gem of a record. We can only hope that a full-length album is on its way in the near future.
Folkwords - 29 June 2017. By Charlie Elland
“There’s sometimes a fine point where voice, music and lyrics come together in a perfect symbiosis, feeding off each other in a unique way. Find that point and you have a match that’s often worth its weight in gold – many strive, some find it. The 'Circles EP' from Alex Seel does. The edgy, slightly frangible vocals pitch perfectly with the finger-picked guitar amplifying the pathways explored in the lyrics.
Telling everyday tales the intricate and inviting lyrics reach out through the softly engaging melodies and multitude of hooks – the result is an intriguing and absorbing listen, observational and contemplative. Seel uses a natural tenor to add a certain tenseness and agitation to the songs. There’s an overarching impression of immediacy that gives the narratives an urgency to convey their messages, which makes this compulsive listening.
And the stand out tracks? The lead track ‘Circles’arrives somewhat uncertainly, engages slowly but ultimately holds, ‘Broken Faucet’delivers a subtle lyrical punch, while ‘Curious Heart’is utterly addictive”.
Acoustic Magazine - Issue 110 Oct 2015
“The five songs on the Other Paths EP show off Alex Seel’s charming finger-picking skills as well as his honest, likeable voice. Citing Bert Jansch as one of his leading sources of inspiration, Seel’s songs are open, sparse and earthy – no doubt due to having lived in a caravan by the sea for a few years. “It was bound to have an influence on what I write about”, says Alex. The EP’s opening track, ‘Oh The Glamour’ is perhaps the strongest track. With its Lumineers-esque catchy hooks, vocal harmonies and picked riffs, the song would sit comfortably on Radio 2’s current play list. Seel is certainly one to watch, particularly if you like McCartney’s early solo acoustic work”.
Aug 2015 by Helen Gregory
Other Paths, the new self-released 5-track EP by Alex Seel, finds the singer/songwriter and guitarist honing his distinctive sound and finding a harder edge, both musically and lyrically. The more bucolic sound of 2013’s Shifting Sandshas been upgraded to startlingly good effect. How much of this new-found abrasiveness is the result of Alex’s relocation from Ireland to the mean streets of London is open to debate, but if the social conscience and commentary displayed in his lyrics is any kind of guide then I’d say it’s definitely been a factor: the move has clearly paid dividends across the board in terms of his creative output.
Lead single and opening track ‘Oh The Glamour’showcases Alex’s re-energised sound in one of the EP’s highlights; it’s an uptempo, rolling major key song with some nicely juxtaposed almost-dissonant guitar fills over Sam Winwood’s ticking, clattering drums. Lyrically it’s a neatly-observed cautionary tale of an unnamed film star who, having attained the fame she craved, finds it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.
‘Distant Echoes’is a more introspective affair with Alex’s intricate fingerstyle guitar meshing with some nicely understated drumming. His use of multitracking for the song’s harmonies is particularly striking; lushly layered voices swoop and swirl and it’s a great reminder both of what a fine voice he has and how accomplished a lyricist he is, in this tale of resilience in the face of self-doubt.
Alex revisits his earlier, pastoral sound in ‘Weight Of Dust’, the EP’s one track where no additional musicians appear. Over a deceptively simple fingerstyle acoustic guitar, spiralling endlessly around, the lyric paints a poignant and sensitive word picture of an older man, wide awake in the small hours of the night with only his fears for the future and memories of the past for company and for comfort.
‘Virtual Grief’is a sardonic look at the way social media has changed the ways in which we interact and the apparent superficiality enabled by new technology. It’s an idea worthy of exploration and the show-and-tell lyrics are easily the match of 10cc or Steely Dan at their acerbic best. Alex overdubs a reggae-tinged electric guitar behind his fingerstyle acoustic while Bradley Burgess adds some subterranean bass rumbles, but again its Alex’s knack for multitracked harmonies that really shines.
The EP closes with another highlight, the bleakly majestic ‘Hollowed Man’which (I think) references T.S. Eliot’s 1925 poem The Hollow Men; although where Eliot’s main concern was Europe after the First World War, Alex’s lyric focuses on the after-effects of war on one soldier. It’s a powerful and disturbing anti-war song with an arrangement which is by turns sombre and emotive. Sam Winwood’s drums rise and fall over the bass as Alex’s echoey, distorted powerchords drop like artillery fire before the smoke clears in the coda and the last notes fragment and fall apart into a squall of feedback and delay.
Alex Seel’s Other PathsEP is a hugely impressive musical calling card, with each of its five songs showcasing a different side of this multi-talented musician’s skills. For me, his ear for harmonies and his subtlety as a lyricist are revelatory and it’s to be hoped that a full-length album follows before too long: he clearly has a massive amount of potential which deserves to be tapped and brought to a larger audience sooner rather than later.
Rolling Stone Magazine (Italy) - Oct 2013
The Wave of Soft Folk from Alex Seel
by Angelo Vaggi (translation by Graham Timmins)
I'm taking a look at the Billboard Hot 100 and in order they are: Miley Cyrus , Katy Perry, Lorde , Avicii and Lady Gaga. So, is it true that music today is just a product for teenagers brutalized by the apps?
No! Especially among emerging artists, where there has spread a creative energy to 360 degrees in all genres. It’s simply not magnified by a commercial comeback record, but it is wide and growing across the web and in club performances. In particular, I noticed the return to folk (more or less rocking) thanks to artists like Bon Iver, Mumford & Sons, Iron and Wine and Kurt Vile, who are receiving more and more popular attention.
I want to draw your attention to Alex Seel, an English guy who's devoted his life to the guitar, with a mastery of fingerpicking techniques and a repertoire of unusual chords; a fine poet with a very personal vocal style.
His songs have echoes both of Nick Drake and Bert Jansch, two of his leading sources of musical inspiration, and listening to Alex in concert is balm to the soul after a rough day.
His second album, Shifting Sands, is a collection of eleven songs which range from the intimate simplicity of Swallow Songto the acoustic rock blues of Welcome Back, finishing with a marvellous interpretation of There's a rhythmby Ron Sexsmith.
Alex is someone who knows how to read the clouds, and who loves the thorns and not the rose. He has a mind stained with the powder from a butterfly's wings, a heart shaded with poetry and the knowing fingers of a fingerpicking acrobat.
Remember the chorus to War by soul singer Edwin Starr? “War!” he growled before asking, “What is it good for? Absolutely nothin’! (sing it again!) Memorable phrase, isn’t it? There’s a brilliance to its structure. Using this sentence form of “Word, Question about Value of Said Word, then Answer,” we can have a form of deductive reasoning called, logically, Edward Starring. If we take the complimentary argument found in War, then Edward Star it, we get this provoking statement: “Peace! What is it good for? Absolutely everything (sing it again!) It’s like R&B Aristotle.
Extend it to any subject you’d like. Here’s a musical example: “Bridal Chorus! What is it good for? Weddings (sing it again!)” Or: “Amazing Grace! What is it good for? Definitely not dancing (sing it again!)”
But these judgment calls are as debatable with music as with War and Peace (both the concepts and the book). Often music is all about the context of when it’s played or performed. Therefore, an easier question most of us can answer, however subjectively, isn’t “what’s certain music good for?” but when is it good? At what time does this song/album/compilation/playlist fit in our life?
Which brings us to Shifting Sands, a collection of dreamy music by troubadour Alex Seel and hewn from the dual traditions of Nick Drake and Ram-era Paul McCartney with a touch of early Cat Stevens. Seel’s musical origins have a mythic vibe. He learned his craft on a coast in Dingle, Ireland, living in a campervan while gaining experience and improvement as a songwriter and performer with his band of minstrel friends.
One pictures him plucking away at some new progression as the ocean clouds shuffled in lightly, and that’s probably where his music probably works best for some people. His art is not for intense jogging, for a beautifully loud day at the park or a festive parade with company. It is contemplative, smooth, pure. It needs silence and utmost attention to let his songs breathe in their fitting environment.
But don’t they breathe when you let them. The album’s technical aspects are great and featuring straightforward production that allows for us to focus on the music, and on the singer’s strengths. Seel is talented, blessed with a lovely fingerpicking style and a uniquely rickety tenor that displays a proclivity for clean swoops to the next note. His voice is his own, and he phrases the material in a way that recalls a rarer kind of singer, the type of lover who lets things go and even opens the door for the tyrannical muse. There is no snark. Perhaps this would have come in handy on The Ox and Thorns Not the Rose, emotionally complex songs, but his mode of expression fits the material.
Speaking of Thorns Not the Rose, it is a lovely, sorrowful track of blunt self-examination: “A troubled cure for a troubled mind…” Seel reasons, then later on, “If the mirror she holds shows light/ appreciation is all in vain/ shows the parts of you you despise/ take a whole lot of medicine to kill that pain.” As a strangely affecting mixture of a modern confession and Robert Burns poetics, it avoids the clichéits title’s metaphor could have been in a lesser artist’s hands.
Many of his lyrics are opaque, emphasizing nature and the external surroundings that often employ (to use Ginsberg’s line) “chains of flashing images” in lines like “Shaping clay dragons, wind on the window pane, that’s alright.” Monkey’s Tail is a perfect White Album outtake, a nursery rhyme ditty for a campfire escapade that shows the singer’s roots of playing ‘round the midnight embers in Western Ireland with his musician friends. Welcome Back is a most bluesy number. He sounds like he’s channeling unplugged Clapton, forgoing the tired “she did me wrong” chestnut and instead offering an encouraging congratulations for the return of an old friend. The album ends with “There’s a Rhythm,” where Seel, immersed in melancholy music, tells us to dance on in spite of it all, and you actually believe him for a moment.
So, to Edwin Starr this album, we must ask, “Shifting Sands! What is it good for?” Many things, but especially as show-piece for a talented musician with much potential. Follow up question: When is it good? That’s up for debate, but perhaps it’s really good, to quote the recently departed Lou Reed, in that place between thought and expression. And with Shifting Sands, you’re there regardless.
Review by: Shane Kimberlin