Deeply atmospheric and melancholy, ‘How is This Helping?’ is the brand new album from Lancashire-based songwriter Michael R Shaw. Written as a response to the tragedy, this record sifts through dark and heavy emotions. This journey comes through in downbeat melodies and moody sonic textures.
This album is beautifully put together, and wonderfully produced with class instrumentation that perfectly accompanies Shaw’s winding melodies. Stand-out performances from the Organ and Piano as heard on track two, ‘A Little Bit of What You Fancy’, which takes on the sound of an authentic Western classic.
Storytelling is the substance of this album. Melodies are simplistic and vocal abilities are downplayed in favour of fitting in more words. The simplified melodies complement the classic Western sound of the album, giving you the feeling of well-known wisdom being disseminated. On the second listen, Shaw’s melodies bring fresh life into the songs, his holding back vocally giving all the more emotion.
Shaw’s chirpy accent shines through in his vocal delivery, at odds with the depth of emotion being shared. The country ballad ‘My Friend’ provides a moment of light relief, even if the lyrics suggest the loss of something precious. The wonderfully winding fiddle line in this song is a sure standout, sounding energetic and spontaneous. You can imagine this being written in a backroom pub jam or something similar.
Overall, this album is a beautiful and sincere piece of art, clearly lovingly written and produced. A real labour of love, each element of each song on the album is filled with purpose and significance. Although 11 songs long, it feels like the album is over too soon, a lonesome fiddle tune closing the collection of songs, lingering long after the last note has been played.
This is a fantastic collaboration of musicians, one that will be phenomenal to see performed live. Shaw teams up with James Youngjohns (Anna Kashfi/Last Harbour), with additional contributions from Adam Goodwin on guitars and Phil Popplewell on vocals (Mouse Party). “Collaborating with James has given the album a unifying identity,” says Shaw, who indeed successfully delivers a powerful sense of cohesion throughout the 11 song album, no mean feat.
As a first-time listener, this album is a beautiful introduction to the music of the talented Alt-Folk songwriter. I’m sure to be seeing more of Michael R Shaw, who shows the ability to share nuanced lyrical stories performed with an open and accessible sound. There is a euphoric sense of Shaw having ‘discovered’ his sound in this album, put in other words, it sounds like coming home.