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Between The Lines (Futurfonic Records)

In one sense this is the kind of record Danny Widdicombe might be expected to make in a decade or two.

It’s got the confidence to be gentle, the technique to be loose and tight simultaneously, the ease with himself to blend in jazz and middle of the road pop without feeling embarrassed about any lack of “cool”, and the self-awareness to be blunt about himself and the state of his life, his world.

Tonally and vocally it isn’t that far from what the likes of Stephen Cummings and James Reyne did post-first wave of fame/post-adjustment to industry reality. And that is a compliment, one worth remembering when you hear a song such as the title track.

But then Widdicombe has packed in a bit of living so far, not least surviving the media clichés of “brave leukemia victim” – and the dogged, real life 24-year shit-fight to be so described – and whose work to now has been at its best in the country-fied Wilson Pickers (makers of bluegrass from rock/folk/pop backgrounds), while also finding him in demand by a number of notable locals as a guitarist for hire.

That’s all here in the bones of these songs – if you’ll pardon the unintentional but also apt marrow reference – built with the finesse of contemporary ensemble Trichotomy whose own work has criss-crossed between jazz, art music, popular song and electronica.

Pianist Sean Foran, bassist Samuel Vincent, and drummer John Parker aren’t separated from Widdicombe in any way, the lines between styles rubbed out so it doesn’t feel like a merging of cultures but rather a healthy starter from which different bakes emerge.

Whether it’s the slight inflection in the rhythm of Popo, the subtle surge of soul organ that easily segues into an electric piano solo of Hold On Tight, the lightly stepping double bass inside the west coast melody of Let’s Get Lost, or the way Red Hill doesn’t add any cross-genre styling to its backporch country until nearly four minutes in, when a pure Steely Dan guitar solo steps up, the judgments in arrangements are very sound.

Speaking of Steely Dan, there’s more of that – sans any Fagan cynicism - in the easy swinging opening track I’m Not Around, whose classy elements, including vocals from Kristin Berardi, demands the resurrection of old school terms such as groovy and silky smooth. This could well have been lifted from an LA session in the mid ‘70s with more facial and chest hair than OH&S would allow today.

Though to be fair, there’s a Fagan-esque touch here in the way the elegant classiness of the feel and sounds obscure the darkness of the lyrics which address thoughts of the world being better without him around. It’s not the last time doubts emerge from Widdicombe, but it’s balanced by reminders such as “hold on tight if it’s love you find”, in Hold On Tight, that you don’t stay in the fight without reason.

In the smooth country slow dance In A Natural Way, with its echo of k.d. lang’s Ingenue in the merger of pedal steel, strings and old-fashioned restrained sadness, Widdicombe declares “I’m falling to pieces in a natural way”. Even if that were true, and there’s plenty of evidence that in fact he’s holding together a lot better than most of us, it’s also happening in a way that makes for a very attractive listening experience.

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