During my recent interview with Al Stewart he asked me if I had heard his latest CD A Beach Full Of Shells, I confessed that I had not, “that’s a shame, I really think it is one of my favorites, in fact it may be my favorite album” he told me.  It was with delight that I found a copy of it in my mailbox yesterday (a great big thanks Al!). Here is a musician that has composed a huge number of songs in his over 40 years of performing and can still find new and fresh stories to tell. Yes, I did say stories, he loves to tell stories, often based in a historical setting. These vignettes pull the listener gently and seductively into the song.

Having just listened to and reviewed the 13 recently re-released Al Stewart albums I was ready to lend a critical ear to A Beach Full Of Shells. My first thought was ‘This guy is 61 years old, but that voice has not changed since I first heard it in 1970’. I can not think of another musician that has achieved that feat. Although Scottish by birth, he sings (and talks) with a very charismatic, soft originless accent that is impossible to track down.

A Beach Full Of Shells is in some ways a return to Al’s roots, each song is new and vibrant, but the style is much more folky than some of his 80’s and 90’s material.

The first track The Immelman Turn is almost reminiscent of Nostradamus, and some of the musical arrangements do sound a little familiar. But that said, it is an outstanding song, this is Al Stewart at his absolute best, great music, great lyrics, and a haunting story.

Rain Barrel (track 4) is a wonderful exploration in music fusion, one moment you are in a Moroccan bazaar and the next back in the west.

Katherine of Oregon is an Al Stewart song that I could have ID’d just by reading the lyrics. The poetic license used in the rhymes just shouts ‘Al Stewart’ at you! The only downside to this tune is that it is too short.

Yes I can now understand why Al is proud of this album, it is a showcase of his vast talent. It goes without saying that his acoustic guitar work is flawless, and the sound mixing is among the very best I have ever heard. You can hear every word, and every instrument, sound engineers could learn something from this production.

You can get your own copy (because you are not getting mine!) from Amazon.

Simon Barrett


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