Album Reviews

Preacher – Signals

Crowning yourselves as ‘Ayrshire’s Melodic Rock Band’ might seem like not exactly setting your targets too high or even of a propensity to prefer being a big fish in a small pond rather than expanding your horizons. However, Scottish band Preacher wear that tag with pride and recently became the first unsigned band to headline at the O2 ABC1 in Glasgow, happy to wear their Scottish roots on their sleeves.

The marketing release claims a likeness to ‘Pink Floyd, The Stranglers and Pearl Jam along with the fantastic story telling abilities of Rush’. Very big boots to fill and, if the rave reviews of their live shows are anything to go by, a claim they are trying hard to meet. Honing their sound on the live circuit for a number of years, Preacher spent six months in the studio working on their debut, concept album ‘Signals’ and are said to have created a unique sound.

Led by the gravel voiced vocalist Martin Murphy, the band consists of Arnie Burgoyne on keyboards, Gordon Munro on bass, Iain Duncan on drums and the self taught guitar talent of Greg Murphy.

‘The ‘Signals’ album is a tour de force of melodic/progressive rock telling the story of a visitation from an extra-terrestrial higher order of beings. Our guardians have been observing Earth for a long time and now they feel it is time to arbitrate.’

From the delicate piano introduction to Time, that melodic rock edge is very distinctive. Martin Murphy’s seductive and velvety vocal delivery is a treat for the ears and when the rhythm section kick in the Floyd influences are very noticeable. Some people have called it anodyne and indistinctive but it does what it sets out to do and does it impressively. The laid back and refined solo from Greg Murphy is a little gem and the track runs out with mellow, satisfied feel to it. Second track Jupiter opens in a much more expansive vein. The smooth keyboard and piano are accompanied by a restrained guitar and you get the feeling we are building up to something. The drums join in, still muted and Murphy’s voice has something of a tender edge to it. The chorus kicks in extremely powerfully and delivers a wall of sound that is emphatic in its breadth. Another creamy and effortless solo adorns the song perfectly. That epic chorus returns to run us to the end of the song in an anthemic fashion. The Sea carries on the storytelling with a nice acoustic guitar led intro before the track carries on in the Floydesque style. There is a funky edge to this track, very soulful with the nicely executed backing vocals. Adding to the anthemic feel of the previous song, there is always an urge to sing along to the catchy chorus and Martin Murphy’s voice has a gravel-edged catchiness to it. The superb licks fired from Greg Murphy’s guitar burn intensely and when he lets loose on the towering solo you can hear the influences on his playing. There is a feeling of ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ to Preacher’s sound but, when it is as polished as this, you don’t feel the need for anything innovative.

Fat Cats carries on the narrative and it is the vocals that are given the lead on this song, accompanied by keyboards and a discreet guitar. Just stopping its self from becoming background music, the drums and piano take a more prominent role and we get a thumping chorus to blow the cobwebs out of our hair. The transformation is completed by a coruscating solo full of body and meaning and the track comes to a close. A song that builds in momentum, Cry For Help is, initially, slow and measured with an apprehensive feel to it. The vocals are earnest and evocative and the repeated backing note works well in tandem. The harmonised backing vocals are a nice touch and the guitar is dreamlike and ethereal, importing a psychedelic edge which is picked up by the brilliant Hammond organ. A short and succinct song that is tasteful if slightly subdued. The title track Signals is a slow burner that promises much and delivers in spades. With an introduction that grabs your attention, downplayed but intense, the song begins to build in impetus. The guitar is there as the base layer, hitting the nodes in your brain and the chorus is dynamic and forceful. Martin Murphy lets his vocal take a level where it does not dominate proceedings but conducts the performance superbly. I don’t know if self-taught is the best way to learn guitar but, if Greg Murphy is anything to go by, it bloody works well for some people, the solo is mighty and commanding and is scorching to the touch. It is a great track and one of my favourites on the album.

Arrival takes on a more space rock, extraterrestrial vibe to go with the subject matter. Electronic driven with a funky beat driven along by some energetic drumming, it is an instrumental track agog with effects. The guitar has a spaced out, Duane Eddy appeal to it and, to me, this song comes across as a break to refresh the aural palate. With no vocals, Greg Murphy’s guitar becomes the centre point and does not disappoint holding your attention on an extended solo that appears as if to narrate the story that is unfolding. The funky bass and stripped back guitar that introduce First Contact make way for a creamy vocal and melodic rock style that evokes images of big stadium gigs in the 80’s. Another charismatic chorus and stylish solo add another coating of sophistication and the track runs to the end with a gung ho cheerfulness that is very infectious. The Factor is a well crafted track with classy acoustic guitar, refined keyboards and a halting vocal delivery that gives me an impression of being restrained, almost like a song running on the spot waiting for the starting gun to fire. When the gun goes off the chorus is one of the best on the album, full of vitality and substance and the guitar is let of the leash to fire a forceful solo straight at the solar plexus. The song has a heavy feel of rhythm and blues to it especially on the stellar chorus.

Let’s start with a Bootsy Collins 70’s funky vibe shall we? That’s what you get with Friends of My Dreams and it develops into a seriously grungy track with all sorts of influences firing about. There is eastern promise along with touches of Seattle’s finest and even a hint of INXS in there, a total musical smorgasbord that is very effective.  The way the guitar squirrels into your psyche as it psychedelically runs out the track is quite disturbing. Turn the lights down low, it’s time to slow things down with Our Destiny. This track has a very imposing feel to it with the heartfelt vocals and delicate piano that begin the song. The addition of a serene keyboard note adds to the portentous note and Martin Murphy’s soulful vocal blossoms into something transcendental and paramount. There is an austerity to the song, a feeling of the need to get a crucial and far reaching missive across. The album closes with I Will be There and, like the previous track, there is a definite solemnity to the message the song is imparting to your mind. Almost ballad like, especially on the imperious chorus, this song is thoughtful and far reaching in the emotions it piques. Martin Murphy delivers a more humble vocal performance in places yet hits you with the emotion of his voice on the chorus, another well crafted track that leaves an indelible impression burned onto your mind.

Preacher appear to be a bit of an enigma, their brand of melodic, progressive rock does not break new boundaries yet, in my opinion, it does bring something extra to the party. Their sound can be likened to others yet it does have a unique stamp on it with excellent vocals and a frighteningly good guitar. In the end it comes down to whether you like it or you don’t and, to this listener, ‘Signals’ is a great album that deserves to give them exposure way beyond their native Ayrshire.

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