To say – on this blog, at least – that an album sounds ‘old fashioned’ doesn’t mean that it sounds tired, or out of its time, or daggy [for non-Australian readers, this word may not make sense]. It means that it sounds like its creator has put himself into a particular mindset: when stories were sung around campfires, to a small circle of listeners who paid attention and could see the singer’s emotions written on his face as well as hear them in his voice. These sung stories had to do a lot of work, as they do now, but they couldn’t rely on a producer or engineer to make them sound prettier. They had to do the job there and then. They had to have intent, and guts, and substance; their performer had to be confident enough to deliver them while also humble enough to understand that he served them, not the other way around.
‘Old fashioned’ can also mean honouring a lineage: the singer-songwriter has listened to a lot of music in his time, has let it seep into his awareness of what it is to write a song and then sing it. He honours that lineage and delivers it to a new audience. Lineages are living things. Some people deny they have them – they want to be ‘original’, to be new. Smart performers know that we all formed by what came before us, and it’s the way you honour the lineage that’s new.
An ‘old-fashioned’ album can also be one that makes the listener feel sentimental – the way the songs are sung makes you think of lazy summer days after school has broken up for the year and there is nothing but time and heat between you and the new year; or days when rain traps you inside and you potter around listening to music, wanting something that is a comfortable companion but which doesn’t put you to sleep. Something to make a cup of tea to, or to sit on a bottle of whiskey with.
So when I say that Sam Newton’s Set in Stone is old fashioned, that is what I mean.
Set in Stone is available now. You can buy it from samnewton.bandcamp.com.