With last year’s ‘Leave Your Love At The Door’, John Blek & The Rats delivered an alcohol-soaked songbook of love, loss and a life steeped in all the misfortunes those things bring. Blek’s debut referenced a litany of songwriters and circumstances that lent it an air of familiarity; reverential to the genre it owed its birth to but still standing on its own merit.
The album cover makes it plain that this is a more overtly solo outing for Blek even though The Rats still seem to be an entity, with ‘Cutting Room Floor’ presenting a more pastoral tone than ‘Leave Your Love At The Door’.
The waver in Blek’s voice that characterised much of the first album is still evident on opener Kathleen, the first of ‘Cutting Room Floor’s missives on bittersweet relationships. Gentle, gospel style backing vocals underpin the intimacy (“I will stay in your system like a gentle disease”) and the teller’s insistent claim that “I don’t love you, Kathleen” seems like a lie to the heart, fooling no-one.
For the most part it’s just Blek and guitar, his band an unobtrusive presence lending warmth to what could otherwise have been a bleak soundscape given the subject matter. Mrs. Black & Blue Eyes details domestic abuse, while Valerie‘s downbeat ballad recounts another dysfunctional relationship; the same mistakes made, only to be repeated. “I called your mother and said that you’d be coming round/ She said ‘We won’t be happy, ‘til you’re six foot in the ground’”
Portland, Oregon is folk in the Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy mould harking back to The Barman, The Bar Fly & Me, the parting shot from ‘Leave Your Love At The Door’. Here, though, it’s a more mature outlook, the days of carousing left behind – “We used to drink a lot and stay out ‘til dawn/ The beer and whiskey chasin’ ‘til the bar’s last call.” An earthy, autumnal Hold Your Horses, with its Oh My Darling, Clementine reference, speaks most overtly of the spatial pretensions of this album, one whose locations and scenarios yearn for America, its cities and Townes.
Darker in tone than its predecessor, ‘Cutting Room Floor’ is even more introspective. It’s a confessional and somewhat forsaken selection, from the pleading protagonists that populate it to the characters they in turn recount, its pacing measured and contemplative – while its overcast air threatens to overwhelm at times, it’s certainly an album befitting the season.