Bill Ryder-Jones has become part of the fabric of the Merseyside music scene, not merely due to co-founding The Coral, but also for being one of the most consistently poetic songwriters in the region. His music is simultaneously full of a down-to-earth cosiness and a cinematic romance. After a prolific spell between 2016 and 2019, Bill had taken a little time away from the spotlight. Yet, a string of singles in 2023 teased his fourth solo album ‘Iechyd Da’ which is due for release on January 12th.
He described this new record as having some of his most lyrically direct and open tracks he’s ever written while other songs remain deeply layered and multi-faceted, and it is this balance between the raw vulnerability and the poetic depth that gives the new album it's tremendous poignancy and richness of character.
Opening track ‘I Know That It's Like This (Baby)’ perhaps best encapsulates this balance. On the surface it is a supremely intimate and upfront track. The vocals are brought right to the forefront of the mix so that you can almost feel Bill’s voice breathing down your neck. The acoustic strum too has a raw and earthy quality while the percussion is soft and soothing, made by snare brush strokes that cast a warm Folk air. Early lines such as “She sings and I'm in heaven” and lyrics about missing your favourite TV shows are simple and direct, yet no less emotive, sung with an authentic, heartfelt love. However, as the track progresses, it switches between different tempos and, in turn, different instrumental compositions with the latter stages becoming much more densely layered. Self-doubt and fears of not being enough creep into the lyrics while a swooping set of melancholic strings and deep piano notes enter the fray creating a rich textural backdrop. This development can be found vocally too, as the “baby” section of the song title is sung by a haunting, twisted backing vocal that drifts throughout the soundscape with an eerie effect, completely contrasting the direct and natural lead vocal. It is a wonderfully emotive song that showcases this blend of atmospheres that will come to define the rest of the album.
‘A Bad Wind Blows In My Heart Pt.3’ completes the trilogy taken from his debut album of the same name, delivering some of the most emotive lines on the album. The passionate, heartbreaking lament in the line “Oh how I loved you” is truly stirring. Yet, the album is not one purely filled with melancholia. There are polenta of moments, both instrumental, vocally or lyrically that are filled with an uplifting hopefulness, most notably the sparkling Christmas-like chimes and soaring big-band sound of ‘Thankfully For Anthony’ or the children’s choir singing the empowering line title line on “We Don’t Need Them”.
What is most striking about the album is the tapestry of cinematic sounds that Bill utilises. The sharp string rhythm on ‘If Tomorrow Starts Without Me’ is punchy and cutting while the whirring space-age textures of closing track ‘Nos Da’ are lucid and entrancing with the latter also featuring a wonderful sample of seagulls, nodding to the coastal hometown influences of Wales and West Kirby that affected his formative years. These themes are strong throughout the record and give it a cosy, nostalgic edge that will stir up some long forgotten memories and pluck at your heartstrings.
On ‘Iechyd Da’ Bill plays with every aspect of his sonic arsenal and, in doing so, captures a beautifully colourful array of vulnerable, intimate and honest emotions with his trademark poetic romance. This album might just break you down and then build you back up, taking you on a journey that feels both comfortably familiar and exciting adventurous. It explores both Bill’s childhood and relatable hometown affections as well as the more metaphorical inner workings of his psyche. It is truly a record you can get lost in and is perhaps his most rounded and impactful album to date.