If judging a book by its cover was the modus operandi of music evaluation, then one would not be long casting judgement on the work of Ham Sandwich. The name doesn’t naturally lend itself towards a sense of musical credibility. Fortunately the sensible among us were always taught to never judge a book by its cover. This is one of those times.
Ham Sandwich are not new to the Irish music scene. Now often referred to endearingly as “Ham Sambo” by Irish fans, their name no longer raises eyebrows among the musical community. Their music and live performances have gone above and beyond any sort of expectation that may have arisen from trivial matters like their name.
After a five year absence from the studio they are back with their third effort, Stories From The Surface. Having already touched the number one spot in the Irish charts it is worth noting that this album has broader international appeal, which will allay the bands concerns as they hope to conquer Europe and the US.
Indie-folk will always be at the band’s core but they have cleverly identified suitable additions to their sound and style. There are very subtle funk and disco infusions throughout the record which strengthen the songs and allow them to reach their full potential. The results are awesome.
Illuminate is a truly irresistible tune which effortlessly permeates the part of the brain that is hopelessly susceptible to catchy melody. Same goes for opening track Hold Me Up. The new infusions are mostly present in the rhythm section and in some of the instrumentation in general. Rather than overwhelm the already strong melody it gently coexists alongside it. It is extensive but there is no clutter. The production value is top rate.
There is a tonal shift when the album reaches In Perfect Rhymes. The same powerful melodies are there. The same solid production value is there. But there is something different. Something more honest. Here we really begin to see the stories from the surface. The lyrics become more reflective while the melody veers further towards the nostalgic. “Away from the lives we loved, I know we’ll be reminded before long” sings Niamh Farrell wistfully.
Elsewhere on the final acoustic track All Worthwhile Podge McNamee is feeling similarly reflective. He sings “I will not regret the time, I know because we only used ourselves, we’ll be the only ones to get the joke, and so we change”. The themes that have been played out until this point become self evident. The stories are those of heartache and regret, although seen from the distance of hindsight.
Ham Sandwich have clearly come out the other side stronger. There is a sense of catharsis here and a desire to move forward. This superb album will bring with it new opportunities for the band abroad. They have the songs. They have the drive. All that’s left is to take the plunge and show the world outside of Ireland what this sandwich is capable of.