Sheer – … And Then There Were Four

Back in 1990 Greenock born musician, Sheer Taft was signed to the world-famous Creation Records label. There he released the cult classic single ‘Cascades’. It was a song out of time, carving its own highly influential spot in Creation history. Fast forward to 2022, now based in Spain, Sheer returns with his first new album since Absolutely Sheer in 1992.

And Then There Were Four is quite different to that low fi, dub/house sound Sheer created back in the 90’s. He has enlisted the help of friends including Ed Chapman; a renowned English artist, members of Primal Scream as well as his good friend and band mate Robert McGovern from The Method One.

Sheer explains how the name of the album came about.

“In 2018 after a particularly messy session involving Pacharan, a Spanish version of Pernod, the name ‘and then there were four’ was bandied around as my fellow travellers fell by the wayside. It sounded like a Spaghetti western, and the idea was hatched.”

And it’s with that very tone we saddle up and head into the opening title track. It’s an expansive and immersive experience evoking the dusty ride of our hero across the dusty plains. It has it all. Spanish guitar, tubular bells, violins and a choir. It’s a real statement of intent and sets the scene nicely for the album as a whole. On how they captured this sound Sheer had this to say.

“We began recording in Artesonao studios in Malaga, myself and Ed Chapman. We were ably assisted by Rachel Hewitt on violin and we recorded a dozen or so tunes in a week. We recruited the services of Darrin Mooney and Martin Duffy of Primal Scream on drums and keys, both of whom just managed to avoid being locked down in Spain as the borders closed at the beginning of the pandemic. Andrew Innes assisted on additional guitars, celeste and bells…lots of bells. Robert McGovern came out to Malaga to play on a few tracks also. We had the voice of Justine Petty – Burrows a Canadian chanteuse to be a foil to my less than acrobatic voice.”

The pace slows for ‘Everybody’s Been Somebody’s Fool’. Sheers rich, deep voice adding gravitas and a world worn atmosphere to this southern fried ballad. There’s a gospel influence in Petty-Burrows backing vocal which lifts the track to another level. Couple that with the country licks from the guitars and the mournful violin complimenting the piano and you have a stone-cold classic.

The lilting instrumental ‘Gypsy River’ follows. I love how this song builds. The song periodically pauses. After each pause new elements join the throng. The violin echoing over the gently strummed and picked acoustic guitars being my personal highlight.

The sun comes out on the next instrumental, ‘After Midnight’. It’s a sunny, soulful trip. Fender Rhodes picks out the melody while a smooth guitar lays down a feelgood groove. This is windows down, cruising down the highway music.

The weather stays the same on ‘The Sun Is Ours’. An acoustic track led by Petty-Burrows gorgeous vocal. Reminiscent of a lost James Taylor or Tim Buckley track it cements a smile on your face. I wanted this one to go on for longer. Surely the sign of a great song.

‘Mezcal Dreams’ maintains the upbeat acoustic vibe with a glorious off kilter counter melody going on from what sounds like a theremin. As soon as this song broke out the ray gun noises in the last 45 seconds or so I flashed on The West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band for a moment. A band whose music I love. Which made me wonder what influences Sheer was drawing on when writing this album.

“The record was a return to my favourite music of my youth, soaking up Dylan, Scott Walker, Tim Buckley, Tim Rose, Tim Hardin and the soundtracks of Morricone, like an old compilation tape from 1986. Ed and I based the record on a screenplay being written by him and his brother Ivan Chapman, a tale of a loner, returning to old haunts with trepidation and an awareness of the inevitable dangers he had left behind.”

We revisit the title track and the main musical motifs of the album on ‘Four Ride Out’. Equally as epic but performed acoustically with a bongo backing. It certainly delivers the goods.

‘Enemigo De Todo’ follows with a grittier more direct attack. Translating as ‘Enemy of Everything’ it conjures up images of our lone gunman on the warpath. A fuzzed-out guitar adds a new texture to the sonic palate of the album. It really makes you sit up and take notice. There’s something of the Arthur Lee’s about this song. I could definitely hear this on a Love album.

The joyful ‘Alegria’ follows. This song is all dancing light through the trees, bouncing off the babbling stream in myriad colours. You can feel your spirit lift from the opening notes.

Sheer draws on his inner Dylan for ‘Chasing Down A Dream’. It’s poetic storytelling in the spirit of the great man himself. Couple that with a killer backing track and you have the recipe for an amazing song. I love how it transforms in the closing minute with that soaring guitar solo.

‘The Ghost’ is an eerie instrumental whose chorus pulses like a heartbeat before drifting back into the dream of the verses. Really pay close attention to all the guitars on this one. There’s some pretty acrobatic playing going on.

We hear the soulful tones of Petty-Burrows again on the wistful ‘Time’. There’s a yearning. A longing in the bones of this song. It sent me back to the beginning over and over to work out what it was. Why was this song affecting me so much? I still don’t fully understand why, maybe it’s the ever-evolving backing track, maybe it’s when Petty-Burrows sings “sometimes” at that key moment. I just don’t know. What I do know is that I bloody love this song and it’s my album stand out track.

‘Requiem for Pablo’ takes us back, once again, to the title track for a fresh spin on the epic musical motifs of this album. You can check it out for yourself here.

We close out the album on the mournful farewell of ‘(There Goes) A Friend Of Mine’. A beautiful vocal again from Petty-Burrows interspersed with spoken word vocals in the style of Johnny Cash. The song is impactful and is the perfect bookend to this album, this whole listening experience.

With ‘And Then There Were Four’ Sheer is stepping away from the sounds we know him for and delving into his musical memory. In the process he’s undoubtedly soaked up the influences of his Spanish surroundings to create something truly unique and special. There’s a tale being told throughout this cohesive and utterly immersive album. Sit down, put the needle on the record and let Sheer tell you all about it.

‘And Then There Were Four’ is out on August 5 2022. The album is available for pre order now from Glass Modern on Bandcamp. You can grab a digital copy or, if you’re quick, there’s a small number of copies left on dark blue vinyl.

Photos by Nick Povan

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