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Barton Hartshorn: Not What I Was Expecting to Hope For
by George Graham
(Suxeed Records, as broadcast on WVIA-FM 5/19/2021)
The stylistic range of the singer-songwriter goes from the simple, intimate folkie to the those going in for elaborate musical arrangements, from straight-out love songs to some elaborate storytelling. This week we have a new album from an artist who goes for the more elaborate side of things in both music and lyrics, but still has a grounding in approachable pop. It’s the new album by Barton Hartshorn called Not What I Expected to Hope For.
Barton Hartshorn is not his real name. He took the name of the small town in England where he grew up after an effort to remake himself. He took an early interest listening to folk singers playing locally, and was attracted to the storytelling aspect. He also gravitated toward a more sophisticated pop coming out of the UK at the time. For three albums he fronted a group called Dictaphone, but after that band went their separate ways, he returned to more of his folk influence. In an effort to make a new life, he moved to Australia for a year and took menial jobs in restaurants and the like. He said that he would write sketches of songs between dealing with orders at the eatery, which led to his second solo album, whose title was reflective of his situation, I Died of Boredom and Came Back As Me, in which he assumed the name of his home town. We featured that album at the time on this review series in 2019, and it spotlighted his fairly wide-ranging stylistic pallet. He has been living in Paris for the past few years, and both his previous album and his new release Not What I Expected to Hope For were recorded there with mainly French players. The new release features some of the same supporting cast, including keyboard man and co-producer Vincent Guibert. This time, the arrangements are perhaps even more sophisticated with the kind of musical complexity of Steely Dan or perhaps the composition style of Bert Bacharach. Hartshorn is a multi-instrumentalist on the new album, playing drums at times in addition to his guitar. He used to be a drummer in one of his previous bands. Other players on the album include guitarist Jeremy Morice, bassist Matteo Casati, and when Hartshorn is not playing drums, Karim Banaziza on drums and percussion. Some of the tracks have just Hartshorn and Guibert, but others can get into more elaborate arrangements, that can compliment the occasionally complicated lyrics.
Opening is a piece called I Got Away But You’re Here to Stay, which Hartshorn says is about “jealousy and regret in a small town in England.” The musical setting epitomizes the attractive, but elaborate pop style of the album. <<>>
Somewhat more energetic in sound is Listen for a Chance described as being about “forgetting what’s important when we grow up.”
One of the highlights of the album is Forbidden Days, a story of teenage crime, in the context of a musical setting that highlights the storytelling aspect. <<>>
A bit more straightforward in its lyrical direction is a song called Did I Let You Down, whose title says it all in the context of a relationship. The composition in waltz time gives it a further interesting touch. <<>>
Showing a mixture of alternative rock edge and a 60s pop complexion is a composition titled Like the Sea. It might not be the strongest track on the album, but it provides another interesting bit of a departure. <<>>
A song called The Gold Black Vacuum of Your Past provides another twist, in addition to Hartshorn’s quirky lyrical approach, with the arrangement mixing a folky acoustic guitar with a spacey synthesizer ambiance. <<>>
The album’s title comes from the opening line of Still Life, a track with perhaps the most elaborate arrangement on this album of ornate pop. It’s another highlight of a creative recording. <<>>
Hartshorn’s explanation of the song If You Were Coming You’d Be Here By Now, is “a young man waits for his girlfriend on a New York street corner on a tragic day in 1904.” It concludes the album in a more musically contemplative mode. <<>>
Not What I Expected to Hope For the new release by Paris-based British singer-songwriter Barton Hartshorn represents the sophisticated pop facet of the singer-songwriter milieu. I think he has surpassed his previous excellent album, with his lyrics that often get into oblique storytelling with creative compositions influenced by the musically elaborate style of Steely Dan with some aspects of British-invasion pop and deep down, a little folk influence. The songwriting is first-rate and the musicianship similarly classy.
Our grade for sound quality is an A-minus. Most of the recording is clean and warm, but there are a few instances of intentional sonic roughness. The dynamic range, how the recording reproduced the ebb and flow of loudness, is about average for a contemporary pop album in a world of volume-compressed pop music.
Barton Hartshorn has again made a creative, engaging album cementing his reputation as a singer-songwriter who is not shy about striving to make things interesting without being esoteric.
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