The opening line of Ally Kerr’s second album, Off The Radar (Much Obliged Records, 2008) gives a tantalizing taste of the thinking person’s pop craft that is to follow. The line comes from “Could Have Been A Contender” and it opens with, ‘he sits and smiles at his big CV thinking he’s just the knees of some bee’.
Scotland is a land that has already brought us Belle and Sebastian, Arab Strap, Teenage Fanclub, Franz Ferdinand, The Goldenhour, John Martyn, Idlewild, Daniel Wylie, and a whole host of other artists that literally ooze song writing talent. It is high praise indeed to say that Ally Kerr has emerged as one of its brightest and fastest rising talents.
Perversely it was in far away Japan that he really started to get the recognition he deserves when his debut album Calling Out To You was voted in a magazine’s list of the "Top 20 Albums Ever to Come Out Of Scotland". As a result he was immediately placed alongside some of the aforementioned highly esteemed company. When his track "The Sore Feet Song" was featured on Japanese television animated show Mushishi, it led to it being released as a successful single.
The tide was turning and soon he would achieve the recognition he clearly deserved in his native Scotland. It happened in 2005 when Neon Tetra Records brought him back onto the radar of his homeland and released Calling Out To You. When the single “Could Have Been A Contender” was released early in 2008 it received glowing reviews. Suddenly Ally Kerr was a name to look out for and his new album was eagerly anticipated.
Trawling through the reviews you will see comparisons to all sorts of names such as Simon and Garfunkel, Belle and Sebastian, and Elliot Smith. I can see all of that but there is also something vaguely of Neil Finn and Crowded House about his songs. An upbeat Elliot Smith would most definitely fit as well.
These are somewhat simple, yet effective songs that are expertly crafted. This is the sign of a natural songwriter with something to say and an unfailing ability to make that all important connection to the life, loves, and troubles of the listener. It is jangly, melodic, catchy, memorable pop, with an endearing edge of quirkiness about it that reels you in and wins you over. This is a thinking person’s pop with well crafted melodies, thoughtful lyrics, and more hooks than a Peter Pan convention.
This is most definitely the case on the impossibly infectious “I Think I’m Bleeding”, a triumphant pop song that should be being played to death on radio. This isn’t a one-off by any stretch of anyone’s imagination and songs such as “The Truth That I Have Learned” and “Mystery Star” confirm just how much quality Ally has to offer.
There are the subtle melodious gems such as the quirky, sugar-coated “The Toothbrush Song”, the beautiful acoustic ballad of the single that is “Amorino”, the heartfelt “Be The One”, and the closing stripped down diamond “Footprints”.
These are sublimely beautiful songs, almost achingly so, all delivered in an understated genuine way that radiates charm and honesty from every catchy note.
Ally Kerr is a gifted and inspired songwriter. Music seems to flow forth from him in an effortless mixture of tempo, mood, and simplicity. A natural songsmith and clearly one of Scotland’s (or even Japan’s) best kept secrets.
That is until now. Off The Radar is such a warm album that it will triumphantly lift your spirits out of today’s horribly unavoidable depression.
“There’s A World” literally sparkles with life. “Off The Radar” chugs along like a sixties hit you almost already know. The quirky intimacy of “Is It Too Late To Work For NASA”, and the warm glow that radiates from “Old Friend” further underline why Ally Kerr is worth keeping an ear or two out for.
Ally Kerr may have been Off The Radar up until now but with this album he hits the target several times over.