It goes without saying, although it may just be my limited knowledge of such things, but whenever an album emerges from the Swindon vicinity with a broadly ska-o-centic sound, there will be some connection to champion of that scene, Erin Bardwell. And so it is that Million Miles Away comes courtesy of his Pop-A-Top label, but the connection runs deeper as the man behind it, Dave Clifton, has been wilding his guitar in The Erin Bardwell Collective for a few years now. But dig a little deeper and you find that Dave was also an original member of South-east reggae/ska stalwarts The Hotknives, and those two band associations alone make for impeccable sonic credentials.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t really know my ska from my reggae, my rocksteady from my…see, that’s where my knowledge runs out but I’m guessing that the neat blends of groove and grace which form the six songs found on this small but perfectly formed record encompass all of these and more. So, I may not know the terminology but I know what I like. And I like this album. A lot!
Don’t Blame Me kicks things off in upbeat and joyous fashion, blissed out vocals over the trademark punctuation of that iconic, spacious guitar stroke, wandering bass lines and breezy brass attacks. By the time you get to Just Dreaming, things have gone in a more hazy direction, hence the title, fluttering flutes taking the role of lead vocal and the whole thing appears to be wandering through reggae-otherworlds or is perhaps the sound you hear as you head through the pearly gates into a heavenly, skanking ska-fterlife.
The title track swaps some of the joyous immediacy that flavours the album for a bit more tension and tightly-wound drama, reflective and edgy in equal measure and things end on the optimistic and life-affirming Never Say Never, a chilled party sound track if ever there was one.
Existing fans of all things ska, reggae and…well, you know…will love the infectious nature of the album but it’s easy ways and accessible vibes mean that it is suitable for everyone’s record collection…if you still have such a thing, and if not you can download it for the price of a pint. A fairly fancy pint, probably something made by Belgian monks, but a pint nonetheless. And if you find that you can’t go out for a drink anymore due to lockdown, then you might as well say at home and listen to some cool music. You see where I’m going with this?