Red Steel 2022
Fathoming the divergence of his lifeline, venerated and underrated singer delivers his questionably final album.
Mostly remembered for his stints with LONE STAR, URIAH HEEP and Gary Moore, this Welsh warbler’s solo artistry has run in a rather different way from what was his trademark approach to hard rock. Keeping his profile deliberately low, Sloman never really left the stage, as the title of the singer’s 1989 solo debut “Disappearances Can Be Deceptive” seemed to suggest, yet the stage moved on with the times, and it took a true fan, familiar with the irresistible, black-hole-like pull of John’s sophomore effort, “Dark Matter” from 1993, to recognize him in 2012 in the fire-and-brimstone preacher who delivered gloomy tunes to the “Occupy” movements crowds in London, the town the Cardiff-born performer used to love as much as his home turf. The feeling of being torn between two cities, symbolized by their centuries-cutting watercourses, became, in a dreary Dickensian style, the concept for the 65-year-old-veteran’s ninth – and supposedly, final – autobiographical album, his poetic and musical zenith.
Thematically slanted, many of this platter’s songs are linked via snippets of spoken word, but it’s the lyrical motifs and melodic patterns which stitch all the pieces together and take them through the ages on a journey depicted, in English and French, in the patinated epic “From The Taff To The Thames” – a pastiche full of panache and allowing a smile to radiate across the entire record. From the piano-splattered title track onwards, a somber grandeur is unfolding before the listener, as Sloman manipulates a variety of instruments to create an orchestral wave, that will later dissolve in mesmeric strum, and sculpt a rustic choir or occasional oratorio out of his multifaceted vocals, even reaching for operatic phantoms in “The Last Coalminer” and in a few other spots.
John may spike “This River Is A Time Machine” with a scintillating tribal pulse and wrap the beats in swirling strings, and dive into a childhood reverie in the mellifluously belligerent balladry of “Scenes From An Old Biscuit Tin” which smells of ancient sadness – only romanticism is bound to turn into a chant of protest in the history-stirring “Londinium” where his croon has histrionics compromise solemnity, and in “Caerdydd (City On The River)” where impressive a cappella start opens out into an insistent, mandolin-tinctured folk sway. However, if the lull of acoustic serenade “Blackweir” must melt the hardest of hearts, the tranquil mantra of “Rest In Peace (For Sylvy)” must dull the pain, and the catchy “When I Go Home” should cinch Celtic ambiance to Latin abandon and let exquisite flamenco flurries banish ghosts of yore in favor of future pleasures, the passionate “Charing Cross Moon” finds enchantment in the railroad grime, and the roaring “70’s Sunday” taps into heavy prog.
Still, there’s wondrous, restless levity to “Walking Along The Taff” which streams its traditional buzz into contemporary sensibility and sees Sloman’s pipes embrace the past, while “Farewell To London Town” brings this voyage to a close with a subdued, albeit defiant, dream – a catharsis of sorts. Cleansing one’s very soul, “Two Rivers” is magnificently intense: a fitting album to register a finish of the artistic career.