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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

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Fretwell fares well on new album ‘Magpie’

 Fretwell fares well on new album Magpie
Fretwell fares well on new album ‘Magpie’

Fretwell fares well on new album ‘Magpie’

Stephen Fretwell is one of the most talented musicians you’ve likely never heard before. Fretwell is gearing up for his first ever U.S. tour later this year, and it promises to be an incredible outing: his first full-length album, “Magpie,” released Feb. 21 on Interscope Records, is one of the greatest solo offerings I have heard in years.

This messy-haired 23-year-old singer/songwriter has been making enormous waves in his homeland of Great Britain – for a while, according to his press release, his single “Emily” was one of the most played tracks on BBC Radio 2 (which is, indeed, something to boast about).

He has toured with chill-out rockers Keane in addition to sharing the stage with England’s beloved Doves and Badly Drawn Boy, all of whom play to an extensive fan base on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

Fretwell’s glowing track record combined with his extensive catalogue of praise (London’s “Evening Standard” relates Fretwell to the legendary Jeff Buckley) leave the initiated listener wondering how in the world this gifted artist has managed to maintain such a low profile.

Interestingly, “Magpie” was recorded at Abbey Road, the world-famous recording studio behind numerous Beatles hits. The production is superb – it balances a very fine line between raw, gritty indie rock and over-produced, over-polished commercial pop rock. Every creak and groan within the studio is captured when Fretwell’s voice is not dominating the track.

His sound is best described as a solid mix of Bob Dylan and “Sea Change”-era Beck, wistful and forlorn. The imperfections in Fretwell’s voice provide for a richer sound, a sound that is refined but refreshingly human.

The first track on the album, titled “Do You Want To Come With?”, sweeps the listener away with the emergence of the faint sounds of seagulls circling over a moonlit beach, a peaceful scene that is gently interrupted by Fretwell’s dreamlike lyrics. The poetic words are uttered with unique delivery in a voice that wavers between silk and sandpaper – the resulting sound is nothing short of hypnotic.

“What’s That You Say Little Girl” follows with upbeat folksy guitar playing that drifts into the background as Fretwell’s unashamedly bold voice sings, “The mess you’ve made/Things like that just can’t be saved/You put your faith in time/I moved on” with crystal clarity. The lyrics deliver fatalistic condescension with a shrug and a smile.

Each additional song offers a simple yet pure dose of songwriting which excels in the absence of grandiose guitar solos and overly analytical lyrics. “Rose,” a somber piece that also manages an uplifting sound thanks to layers upon layers of beautiful female vocal accompaniment, is a shining example of this formula.

The album’s final track, simply titled “-,” is the perfect closer. The drums and guitar are stowed away while Fretwell sings with nothing more than an accompanying piano. As with each preceding song on the album, Fretwell utilizes chord progressions that lend an air of sadness, though not hopelessness, to the track. “-” floats along like a leaf drifting down a slow stream. It lacks a recurring chorus, and Fretwell’s vocals express such honesty and conviction that this song is more suitably classified as a poem set to music, a work of art rather than commercialism.

The insert of “Magpie” includes an incomplete, messy handwritten scrawling of the lyrics for each song on the record. The booklet resembles the inside of a diary of some mad genius, words running amok in every direction as though the page simply cannot contain them.

The handful of black-and-white photos scattered throughout have an artistic quality, and the photo of Stephen Fretwell holding his guitar beside a microphone is eerily reminiscent of Bob Dylan as he appears on the cover of “Highway 61 Revisited,” arguably Dylan’s most famous work to date.

Fretwell delivers not only an exquisitely solid album, but an experience as well. “Magpie” is both stimulating and soothing: You can listen to it on your trek to class just as easily as you can drift into dreamland listening to its foggy, atmospheric instrumentation. Complexity and garishness are nowhere to be found, and for this reason “Magpie” rises above the majority of other recent releases.

Quality production and heartfelt songwriting provide a more sincere alternative to the overabundance of showy stage acts that are appearing on the increasingly marketable music scene in droves. From the imaginative imagery to the energetic harmonica on “Brother,” this record is positively a work of art.

 

Jared Caraway is a first-year computer science major and can be reached at [email protected].

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