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Sullivan, Justin: Surrounded

Forty years after they began, New Model Army continue on, led by their singer and guitarist Just Sullivan, a man who could be seen as a modern day poet for the disconnected, the forgotten and the downtrodden. Eighteen years ago he released a solo album and now rewards our patience with a second helping of insightful tales and acoustic melancholy. With many hands making light work, Jon Thorne on bass, Tom Moth (Florence and the Machine) on harp and the current members of NMA all add their considerable talents. And not content with that there are also string arrangements from composers Tobias Unterberg, Henning Nügel and Shir-Ran Yinon, and yet, if ever an album sounded like a ‘solo’ effort from the heart, then it’s Surrounded. For while the arrangements and heart wrenching dynamics are lush, yet barren on “Stone And Heather”, you can’t help but focus in on the acoustic strumming and ever so honest vocals from Sullivan. It’s a beautiful, engaging and yet remote experience that you feel fully part of.

The album opens with “Dirge” and in many ways I’m whisked into the recent world of Lunatic Soul and their Through Shaded Woods effort where mood, tone and an understanding of scene, setting and belonging were key to that album’s success. It’s no different here even if things don’t necessarily remain in that area as we move on. “Amundsen” follows, the tale of that other - and in truth, triumphant - polar explorer quite beautifully told as an urgency and poignancy takes you deep into the frigid cold and remoteness of his experiences and yet somehow the freedom it all offered. Pain and achievement are equals here as a quite tragic tale is told of human endeavour, jealousy and the pain of knowing that winning meant that others had to come second; losing their lives in that battle. Musically the swooping strings and stunningly arranged vocals are a match for the sentiment and emotion in a way few could muster.

“Akistan” on the other hand delves deep into a more modern conflict as it turns focus on passionate belonging that is challenged at every turn by those who shouldn’t be there and those who should. It’s a song about pride and scruples, belief and beliefs, and of standing firm both physically and morally. Again, the stark but lush sounds created run alongside these insightful thoughts and opinions and that theme broadens on the bulging score-like “Unforgiven”, strings and strums intertwining with echoing vocals and roaming bass work that underpins everything expertly. But in truth, no matter where you decide to dip into this album, it really does make a deep impact, the vocals and understated, almost Simon & Garfunkel like poignancy in how the acoustic guitar can simultaneously tell tales of beauty and despair through “Clear Skies” utterly captivating. Whereas “Ride” almost wills you to close your eyes and conjure up the scene of shared times and tales of love that merely mask reality.

It really has taken me quite a while to put my thoughts together regarding Surrounded, with initial encounters only hinting at the depth of thought, character and emotion that slowly seeps from this album as you live with it. Now, in those darker moments, what Justin Sullivan has created here has become a companion that I can’t get enough of. It’s really quite some achievement and really quite some album.


Track Listing
1. DIRGE
2. AMUNDSEN
3. COMING WITH ME
4. CLEAN HORIZON
5. STONE AND HEATHER
6. 28TH MAY
7. AKISTAN
8. UNFORGIVEN
9. SAO PAULO
10. 1975
11. SEA AGAIN
12. CLEAR SKIES
13. RIP TIDES
14. DAUGHTER OF THE SUN
15. RIDE
16. SURROUNDED

Added: July 25th 2021
Reviewer: Steven Reid
Score:
Related Link: Surrounded @ NMA online
Hits: 314
Language: english

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