20-20 Vision by Tenderhooks

2020 Vision Album Cover

This seventh album for the eternally talented ‘alt rock pop blues’ (and a few more genres too) band, ‘Tenderhooks’, is as slick and diverse as every other one I have been fortunate enough to review.

Opening with the alluring ‘Prelude’, purely instrumental with initially just a solo piano, before being joined by a sax, one certainly feels drawn in to listen on, as it seamlessly drifts into ‘Bright Lights City’, a chilled number reminiscent of ‘80s disco sounds, with a hint of soul.

The title track of the album follows. Unlike the usual Tenderhooks fare, which tends towards ‘feelgood’ or narrative, ‘20-20 Vision’ hovers on the periphery of politics. Referencing environmental concerns, hats off to singer/songwriter Markus Leinweber for the musical reminder that the onus is on us for the well-being of our majestic planet.

‘This’n’That’, with its bassy reggae/ska feel throughout, will bring you back to a wonderfully mellow mood, especially if – like me – you were a fan of ‘The Specials’ back in the day. Another charming piano intro heralds ‘Run into the Sun’ next; with some beautifully clear vocals from Markus and some rousing guitar solos into the mix, this gentle rock song earns its place as one of my favourites.

Changing the tempo considerably is the lively ‘Thinking Cap’, followed by ‘Cell Number 9’. The latter is dominated by some skilled piano playing and tells the dark story of a wrongly convicted inmate. The minor key and choir of humming backing singers adds a powerful poignancy to the song. If you like show tunes, this is for you; it definitely feels like a song from a score for a gritty modern musical.

‘Smash It’ is another lively offering, displaying the vast array of instruments skillfully played by the Tenderhooks musicians. ‘No-one Gives a Monkies’ – definite blast from an ‘80s past with a bouncy ska/Britpop mix – precedes ‘Mermaids’, which is a gentle and quirky mermaid story to wrap up this energetic album.

Lucky me – I attended the launch party AND I have the album. But the fabulous news for you, is that it is now available on many digital platforms, including Spotify.

Tenderhooks band pic

Tenderhooks’ seventh album is available on many digital platforms, including Spotify.

Lisa O’Connor.

North Star (Markus and the Tenderhooks)

‘Markus and the Tenderhooks’ are a tangible representation of shifting dynamics in music. Just when you think you’ve identified their genre as ‘jazz meets ska meets Britpop’, they open their latest album, ‘North Star’, with a song title that is clearly classical. The magical ‘Prelude in Blue’, gives us Markus Napier’s rich tones narrating a snippet of a story against a backdrop of delightful piano sounds. Occasional phrases reminiscent of familiar classical pieces give an Oriental feel, adding to the mystery, especially with the spoken references to jazz clubs on Broadway.

A leaning towards country vibes brings us the second track, ‘Mother Dear’, which manages to impart a child’s tenderness towards his mother without the schmaltz.

Drawing you in with some stirring drum beats, you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re in for a rousing anthem, in the opening seconds of third track ‘Yolena’. But in true Tenderhooks style, the rug is pulled out from under you as frontman Markus Napier whisks you back to the ‘80s with a slick Britpop-esque commentary. With the afore-mentioned drumbeats and some pretty string sounds, this is a very musical song, despite the whole story being presented via the spoken word; the whole story being the lowdown on the intriguing and enigmatic Yolena. The latter is the narrator’s neighbour and the object of his affection in a remote, adoring manner and indeed, the catchy chorus is a chant of her name with the fun sounds of a tambourine in the background. With his slightly obtuse, yet very entertaining flair for writing clearly evident throughout the song, Napier has every art form – music, writing, acting – covered in just a few minutes and with its clean, abrupt finish, displays an easy flawlessness.

Definite shades of Billy Bragg are evident in the next track on this musical feast: ‘Little Stunner’, only to be followed by the more reflective ‘Sleep Tight’, which, as its name suggests, has qualities of a lullaby – but on the outside, as you’ll find a more upbeat element in the middle.

North Star

The second half of the album kicks off with the rock’n’roll ‘Russell You Up’, before sliding into the easy reggae beats of the aptly-named ‘Ease Yourself’.

Markus’s trademark saxophone – one of my favourite sounds of this band – makes an appearance in ‘Rubber Necking’ before the penultimate rock track ‘Cry Cry Cry’.

The final track – the album’s namesake – ‘North Star’, seems to be a revelation of the first track, ‘Prelude in Blue’, which is clearly a teaser. With keys, strings and wind, there is nothing short of a full orchestra supporting this enchanting number whose lyrics reveal more to the story of which we only receive hints at the start of the album. If ‘Prelude in Blue’ is pretty, ‘North Star’ is stunning; with minor keys building up to a crescendo of harmony, it is a fitting way to round off an album packed with a dynamic variety of musical genres.

 

‘North Star’ is currently available from Resident Brighton.

 

Lisa O’Connor