May, 2021, Justin Sullivan steps out from New Model Army to release his second solo album, eighteen years after the first and this is a more cohesive soulful and altogether alluring encounter that is both captivating and masterful in its execution with the minimum instrumentations at play.  There are no thunderous drum rolls nor throbbing basslines or loud guitars.  Instead, Sullivan paints huge landscapes with his storytelling and dream-like subtle melodies that are thought-provoking as the listener is left in wonderment at the seemingly simplistic style yet layer on layer of beautiful musicianship and songwriting of the highest order.


Sullivan hasn’t spent the last eighteen years lounging around he’s clearly been filling his time wandering around writing drinking in everything that he holds dear and being able to pour those pictures out of his soul onto sheets of music and then record it is a magnificent achievement.  Look no further than 28th May (the day it got released coincidentally) its rebel songs with a cause, folk songs that certainly don’t invoke images of morris dancers or hippies man but gritty real-life tales of life and love and emptying one’s head of all those stories stored.


When it’s as good as this it’s a beautiful thing ‘Akistan’ is acoustic guitar pickings with some lush keys underpinning the strained vocals as Sullivan closes his eyes and lets it all out – often haunting or sounding haunted it’s immersive and emotional but all in a good way.  As the Strings roll in its sepia tones is dark but late evening darkness as the stirring triumphant vocals raise up.


‘Surrounded’ was written in the first few weeks of lockdown when we were all alone with our thoughts and Sullivan clearly had no trouble pouring out his stories and emptying his mind of all these songs he needed to get off his chest it’s powerful and uplifting none more so than ‘Unforgiven’.


It’s not a record (although sparse in arrangement ) without a cast of musicians who helped Sullivan fill up this canvas with aplomb.  Jon Thorne’s contribution is magnificent with the beautiful sliding fretless basslines, Tom Moss (Florence and the machines) contributing on Harp and Tobias Unterberg, Henning Nügel and Shir-Ran Yinon for their contributions on the strings.


Sullivan said of this album “I wanted to write about other things – some well-known stories, some less well-known, a few autobiographical and more a landscape of the imagination than social comment.”  Sullivan has penned a complete record that is an absolute joy to listen to, a fantastic accompaniment to his day job work of recent New Model Army records and enough of a departure without straying too far for fans of his band.


I’d have this right up there with ‘Secrets Of The Beehive’ from David Sylvian and Stephen Harris ‘Song From The Mission Of Hope’ as solo records in similar mellow moments. On the first dozen or so plays this has grown and grown into a huge favourite Its ebb and flow is magnificent as different songs open up different paths when different moods change how I hear the music.  A simply stunning body of work. Songs like ‘Daughters Of The Sun’ being one of the best. With its swelling sparse harp strum Sullivan almost whispering the lyrics into the depth of your ear you feel every nuance of his dialect simple yet evocative as the song swirls and builds gently before calmy fading away.  Probably only bettered by the album’s closing song ‘Surrounded’ which encapsulates everything that’s good about this album even Sullivans singing voice when he gets up to the high notes and the fluttering flute (something I never thought I’d say).


Please if you have a dozen new songs fit for solo recordings Mr. Sullivan can you not wait eighteen years to get them laid onto tape if that’s alright.


Buy Here / Amazon / Mediabook version with 2 CD

Author: Dom Daley