You may know Luke Temple as part of indie jingle janglers Here We Go Magic but his latest solo record A Hand Through the Cellar Door is a far cry from their output. There’s a subdued darkness cast over this record in its tone, arrangements and lyrical content which creates an unnerving but intriguing contrast when married to the sweetness of Temple’s voice. The laziest comparisons are so often the most accurate. In Temple’s case the fact that his singing voice sounds incredibly similar to Paul Simon’s is just unavoidable. That’s not to say it’s a bad thing, not at all.
Looking at the track listing for this record one thing jumped out at me. There are only eight songs on it. Eight songs. On the first run through Temple dispels the general knee-jerk summation of him as a miserly minstrel with two songs. ‘Maryanne Was Quiet’ and ‘The Case of Louis Warren’ more than make up for the two to four songs I felt the younger me was owed. Opuses of bleak, minutely detailed story telling.
‘Maryanne Was Quiet’ documents the life of a five-year-old girl who was given up by her mother to the laundries of 1950’s Ireland in the hope of a better life and the torrid time she endures as a result of what her mother thought was best. ‘The Case of Louis Warren’ tells the tale of a school yard bully who only learns the compassion of humanity after enduring a horrible accident. Both epically tragic, full of cinematic imagery, beautifully written and performed with skilfully controlled emotion.
It’s on ‘The Birds of Late December’ that Temple is at his most Simon-esque. His vocal led by, but not completely mimicking, the melody picked out on his guitar, instead jumping on and off for emphasis. ‘The Complicated Men of the 1940’s’ will ring a bell for Lou Reed fans as it’s incredibly similar to Reed’s gargantuan ‘Street Hassle’ in both its arrangement and vocal delivery. So similar you’d have to think that Temple is paying homage to the recently deceased voyeur of New York back alley basements and bars.
The term singer-songwriter has been sullied over the years by songs about sunshine, girls with curly hair and inner pain curable only by barbiturate. There’s far too much quality and depth on this record for it to fall into that category but the instrumentation does lean in that direction slightly. Acoustic guitars and brushes are the order of the day with very little variation.
Subtlety, rhythm and space are as important on this record as the sketches Temple creates in his songs. This is an excellent folk record. Great stories told on a back drop of interesting arrangements.