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The original intention when the three Js (Jim, Josh and Joe) formed the band in London in 2009 was for Soapy Jefferson to be an acoustic trio. Unless you're aiming for some form of folk music, then acoustic bands can easily and naturally head in two directions. Overly polite, soppy singer-songwriter AOR boredom, or the dark path down to doom and gloom. It's the second option that yields the best results and is usually by far the more interesting. Doom and gloom needn't be depressing or turgid, it can be inspiring, powerful and passionate. Just ask anyone who's a fan of Tom Waits, Nick Cave or Leonard Cohen, three artists who you can't help but think of when listening to Balloon, especially gravel-voiced closer 'Next Exit'.
Skipping back to the start and the title-track we find something more upbeat but seemingly unsure of just where it will go next. It's still lyrically bleak but there's optimism in the cinematic strings that fill the background and the brass that lights up the ending, but before that there's uncertainty in lyrics like "all you do will decay" and places where "sadness and joy are restrained". It's a grand entrance though and it's difficult not to be impressed at the emotion of it all. Most uptempo of all is the countryish 'The Fury-Belle' which may have a jaunty tune but the lyrics tell a sinister tale of falling for a woman who "liked to cause pain" and was "a dealer of violence" and goes on to murder a priest.
There are some quality tracks on this album and several of them are up to the standard of the aforementioned lords of darkness; 'Resurrection Song' is a creepy and atmospheric highlight with some great guitar, it's another fast-paced song and the kind that Soapy Jefferson do best on this album. They put the brakes on when they reach 'Pictures Of My Eyelids', it's spooky and downbeat but it works. There is a slight lull in the middle although no particular song is below par, your attention can begin to wander. That said, the Tom Waits-influenced 'Skinful Of Poison' has some interesting ideas. The twists and turns of the epic 'The Mad Captain' is a voyage of discovery, again draped in misery but of the variety we mentioned that can be inspiring, powerful and passionate. If the festive cheer is beginning to grate then the sometimes spectacular 'Balloon' could be the perfect antidote.
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