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What Lights 40 Watt Sun: A Playlist

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In case you have been living under a rock (or don’t follow new music as ardently as I do), 40 Watt Sun has announced the release of their second album. Wider than the Sky is different, but still heart-aching, bittersweet and wonderful.

Given you’ll be hearing a little more about the album from me tomorrow, I’ll leave it at that, but songwriter and former-Warning frontman Patrick Walker has been nice enough to give us a little insight into the music which “inspires and moves” him.

With this newer, superficially different direction in 40 Watt Sun’s imminent return, I personally recommend listening through the brief list of music, and even doing a little further research if you are so inclined. As a steadfast fan of more than a handful of artists in this list, I can attest to the emotive, introspective power of the music listed below and their immediate ties to 40 Watt Sun’s music. Beauty exists in all forms.

—Jon Rosenthal

“Sudden Waves” – June Tabor (Angel Tiger, 1992)

June Tabor (along with her long-time pianist/arranger Huw Warren) is the greatest living interpreter of song. I learn a lot from her music; those sparse but profound arrangements underlying these beautiful thick melodies and a pure, unhurried delivery. Her recording of Les Barker’s song “Sudden Waves” is one of the most becalming, beautiful things I know. Whenever I hear it it leaves me breathless and immobilised. I wrote a song a few years ago and, rather arrogantly perhaps, was going to offer it to June Tabor but I never did.

“Heaven of Your Hands” – American Music Club (United Kingdom, 1989)

I could choose almost anything from their first five albums. Mark Eitzel is one of my favourite artists. He’s utterly distinctive and fearless as a writer. And I’ve probably been influenced in no small way by his ‘free verse’ approach to lyrics that I’ve seen unmatched by almost anyone.
(Joni Mitchell’s writing on Hejira would be one of those exceptions.) It’s almost criminal that those early American Music Club albums are still out of print.

“Lonely Town” – Frank Sinatra (Where Are You?, 1957)

I love Sinatra; especially the recordings from ’53 to ’61. Frank Sinatra Sings for Only The Lonely is my favourite album but this is most probably my favourite recorded song. As you expect, every word he sings is weighed and deeply considered. And with its Gordon Jenkins arrangement and sparse, haunting lyric, this is evocative and effective. For me it feels very much the soundtrack in my mind to my time touring the US back in 2011.

“The Robin’s Tiny Throat” – Baby Dee (Little Window, 2001)

Baby Dee’s songs, particularly on her first two albums, seem to belong to another place and time. They are beautiful, fragile things and they’re raw, sensitive, inexorably sad and occasionally harrowing, but yet they’re reconciled by an almost childlike warmth and a seemingly unshakable faith in love, life and self-transcendence. I saw Baby Dee play a show in the basement room of a club in Manchester about ten years ago and there were less than fifteen people sitting down there watching this woman perform these remarkable songs and accompanying herself with a harp.

“Wounds Which Never Heal” – Revelation (Never Comes Silence, 1992)

As a writer, John Brenner was my biggest musical influence during my early years with my previous band, Warning, and even now his music moves and inspires me to some degree. Here was somebody playing down-tempo, heavy-sounding music but which was so progressive and beautiful and considered. John’s writing was eloquent and erudite (look at “Poets and Paupers” or “Little Faith” for example) and, especially later, grew painfully and darkly introspective. An album like Never Comes Silence is, by and large, all but forgotten now but it should be heralded from the rooftops. John and I eventually toured together in 2007 and became good friends for a while but our lives took unexpected turns and we’ve lost touch. I miss him a lot.

“Driftin’” – Tim Buckley (Live at the Troubadour 1969, 1994)

I first ‘discovered’ Tim Buckley in 1997 from John Sellings, my bass player at the time. His parents had all the records and had even seen Tim Buckley at Queen Elizabeth Hall in 1968 at the concert later released as Dream Letter: Live in London. I was so overwhelmed by those albums, and most particularly by Happy Sad. I really wanted to translate what I heard into the kind of music I was wanting to play and make records with that same kind of sustained deep mood and emotional arc and with that sense of passage. So Tim Buckley definitely informed my music as much as a band like Revelation did. We played one of Tim Buckley’s songs on tour in 2011.

“Casey’s Last Ride” – Kris Kristofferson (Kristofferson, 1971)

A song that continues to haunt me. It reminds me of the worlds and the characters from the novels of Patrick Hamilton or Graham Greene whom I love. The first Kristofferson album might be the best collection of songs ever recorded but yet it also feels mostly too overproduced to me; better versions of this song have been recorded by Dorothy Hamm, June Tabor and John Denver, for instance. But his writing reveals this flawed, contradictory nature which I suppose is essentially very human and honest. He sings about our indignities and failures but finds the glories in them. His songs are deeply wise and compassionate. I find I cry so easily these days and Kristofferson’s songs always affect me deeply.

“Easy’s Getting’ Harder Every Day” – Iris Dement (My Life, 1993)

I really think this is one of the great singer-songwriter albums. It’s obviously deeply personal and painfully direct but Iris Dement is so unassuming and writes and sings these soul-baring songs with such staggering humility and emotional generosity that I never fail to be moved and inspired by it. She’s one of the great voices.

“Elizabeth, You Were Born to Play That Part” – Ryan Adams (29, 2005)

I make no bones about that fact that Ryan Adams is my favourite songwriter working today and, for me, this is his best album. It’s like this great dark, glimmering monolith of a record, gorgeous and lonely and slightly mysterious. I love the playout at the end of this song; it’s a beautifully-realised touch. I don’t listen to this record too often but when I do I find it both intimidating and inspiring. This was the third album Ryan Adams released in 2005; it’s a pace of creativity that is completely alien to me.

“Jigsaw” – Marillion (Fugazi, 1984)

They’ve been my favourite band since I picked up La Gazza Ladra on cassette from the town library, aged 11. I took 40 Watt Sun’s name from a lyric on this album. These records have grown with me throughout my life. I suppose it’s quite inconsistent with most of the other music I like to listen to, but I still love this as much as I ever did. I still get chills when I hear Fish’s soaring falsetto or Steve Rothery’s exquisite, stirring guitar solos. As a guitar player I’ve been more influenced by Rothery than anyone. I think he’s a genius.

Patrick Walker is the singer and a songwriter in 40 Watt Sun.

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