Monday, February 24, 2014

Album Review :: Tom Hickox - War, Peace and Diplomacy

Tom Hickox

War, Peace and Diplomacy

March 10 2014 (Fierce Panda)


Words: Andy Runacres

The current music scene isn't short of male singer songwriters vying for our attention but with his debut album 'War, Peace and Diplomacy', it would be fair to say that Tom Hickox puts himself forward as one to put up there on the top table along with the likes of Richard Hawley (who Tom supported last year and who guests on the album), John Grant and (an oft under-rated) Ed Harcourt.

Hickox was born into a musical family, with his father being a conductor of some note and his mother, an orchestral timpanist, and it is likely that this classical background has seeped into his songwriting with his piano led songs bathed in strings, brass and woodwind. This isn't classical music, however, but it is classic music in the sense that it's designed to stand the test of time, free of trends and scenes. It is both seriously good and serious in that it demands the listener's attention, enchanting us with tales of an assembled cast of characters.

The album opens with a reworked version of 'The Angel Of The North', a song that has been around on the internet for some time. Plaintive organ chords combined with delicate percussion lead us on to what is the strongest instrument on the record, Hickox's extraordinary baritone, before strings come in and bring the song to completion.

Another internet hit, 'The Pretty Pride of Russia' tells its story of a naïve young woman's dreams of leaving her country life behind for a better lifestyle in London which she sees as the "kind of place for me to be adored". The offer mentioned in the song to allow this to happen, however, seems of a dubious nature. 'Out Of The Warzone', featuring the slide guitar of Richard Hawley, lifts the pace a notch before 'Your Baby Was Asleep' comes across as a lullaby, but all the time having an uneasy, maybe sinister, underbelly.

'White Roses Red' uses dramatic chords and possibly tells its story through the symbolism of the flowers within. It talks of lilies (representing fertility) opening on the bed and blood turning white roses (innocence and purity) red (passion and fiery love). A woman's loss of virginity perhaps? Or perhaps not, but Tom is on record as saying he likes the listener to decide the journey of the songs. 'Let Me Be Your Lover', a piano-led ballad interspersed with spine tingling brass, is another that imparts a tale - of all-consuming, unending love in this case; a story where the subject wants to "paint your picture when your looks have long passed by" and " to shut your eyes when you die". It's a love song with a difference, avoiding the mawkish sentimentality common amongst the genre.

Elsewhere, 'A Normal Boy's examination of a middle class boy being converted to a radicalized jihadist, builds dramatically to an explosive finish. It's brave subject matter and one that perhaps shouldn't work, but the fact that it does is testament to Hickox's extraordinary song writing ability. 'The Lisbon Maru' tells the story of an old seaman desperate for respect amongst a younger crowd for the part he has played in history, before the album ends on the aptly named 'Good Night', a stirring song that builds to a triumphant finish, which like all good closers makes you want to go back to track one and start the journey again.

There is no denying that with 'War, Peace and Diplomacy' we are seeing the emergence of a new and extremely gifted talent. Tom Hickox demands your attention. You'd be a fool to ignore him.

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