Kete Bowers – Paper Ships (2019)

Kete Bowers is one of those rare folk talents that seemingly appear out of the blue to dazzle you with their songs. His debut made a splash in the music scene in 2010, but in the nine years since then have been strangely silent. Last year, he had a triumphant return with his album Paper Ships which was produced by Michael Timmins and brings back everything we love about this Liverpudlian Neil Young.

Paper Ships is a collection of songs written by Bowers and is overflowing with his melancholic tone. The album also features Tom Juhas (electric guitar), Aron Goldstein (pedal steel guitar, dobro guitar), Michael Johnston (piano, organ), Josh Finlayson (bass guitar) and Peter Timmins (drums). While his music draws from many genres including rock, folk and blues, there is something distinctly Americana about this album.

The Americana vibes hit you from the first note in the opening track ‘Northern Town’. This is followed by Bowers’ rich vocals that cut through you. The sombre tone of the melody whispers below his vocals as you are drawn into the lyrics. They look at a bad relationship and coping with being in this situation. While sombre, there is a yearning in the track for the better days of the past.

The melody of ‘There Was A Time’ has a soaring opening provided by the guitar line. Throughout the song, there are soaring guitars in the background that remind you of wide-open spaces. The lyrics reminisce over what there used to be, but there is a glimmer of hope that some aspects can come back. This is a great song that makes you think of campfires in the desert.

The reverbing guitar in ‘Winner’ adds this amazing undertone to a track that is gentle and questioning. Bowers’ vocals are powerful on this song as they pierce through you as they question what went wrong. The slow pace of the song works with the minimalist melody, but there is a depressing beauty to it.

‘Ghosts’ has a more folk vibe to it than the tracks before it, but there is this almost bluesy flair as well. The melody is enthralling and grips you from the first notes. There is a lushness to this song that puts it on a completely different level. It could be the organ in the underlayers or the emotion in Bowers’ performance. Regardless, it is a song that you can easily listen to on repeat and my favourite of the album.

‘A Town With No Cheer’ describes a town that is as depressing as the title makes you imagine. The terrible things about the town resonate more through Bowers’ emotive performance. You can hear how done he is with the town. While this song is a lament, you can’t stop listening to it. The simple arrangement and vocals make it impossible to stop before the last notes.

Kete Bowers Paper Ships cover

The next track is ‘A Place By The River’ that has this wonderfully airy opening. However, this turns into something sinister in both the lyrics and melody. The imagery of the lyrics is amazing as you can picture the bend in the river. Bowers’ vocals have a hopelessness to them that enhances the lyrics to create an enthralling tale. The growling in his performance also adds to the sinister vibes.

There is a lighter tone to ‘A Fine Day To Leave’ that gives you a bit of relief after the intense storm of the last track. While the melody is lighter, the song is still swimming in melancholy. Bowers’ vocal performance matches this sad lightness as he works through memories.

‘Northside’ has a murky feeling to the open that is matched by the vocal performance. There is something contemplative about this performance and the lyrics. While this song looks back, there is also a hope for the future that things are going to be better. The tales told in this song are unbelievably sad, but so real which makes them more relatable.

‘You Stole My Joy’ brings this melancholic album to an end. There is an upbeat feeling to the opening that is a little at odds with the rest of the song. As the song takes a sadder turn, the upbeat opening remains as an undertone. It is like remembering that things are not great, but knowing that you will be able to work through everything.

If you are looking for an album full of misery and torment, Paper Ships by Kete Bowers might just be for you. His rich vocals combine with bluesy Americana melodies to prove that there is beauty in despair. While steeping in melancholy, there is a sense of hope throughout the album that you can move forward with positivity.

Find out more about Kete Bowers on his Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Spotify.

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