First Impressions: Waterlands by Scott Lloyd

After a decade spent mucking about in the Manchester music scene, singer-songwriter Scott Lloyd found himself in the grips of an existential crisis while touring the American west coast in support of his eponymous 2019 debut album: What had once been fun had become worse than just a grind. His creativity was zapped and spirits low; he was going through the motions, with his dreams seemingly falling further and further out of reach. As he confides in “Running,” a highlight from his new Waterlands album, “I’m running/Running on a treadmill/running out of steam/I can see myself in the future/But I can’t get there it seems.” And then, due to COVID-19, the world shut down. Rather than sit home and pout, he occupied his time by volunteering as a gardener at Cheshire’s Dunham Massey Estate, which is home to a historic hall and deer park. As he explains in the press release for the album, “Nature was a huge solace for me when all my gigs and work quickly vanished. Daily walks and being out working in the garden changed my life for the better.”

Waterlands opens with “Meet Me at the Bluebell,” a minute-and-change acoustic gem about downing pints with an older, contented gent who could well be himself a few decades down the timeline. The songs that follow find Lloyd surveying his life in a way that, I think, should resonate with all whose lives haven’t played out as planned—i.e. most of us. (To quote the bard Bruce Springsteen, “Is a dream a lie if it don’t come true/or is it something worse?”) It’s far from a downer, however, as glimmers of hope are discerned throughout.

The album proper gets underway with “In the Water,” which finds him confessing, “I’ve been sinking in the water/sinking like a stone going down in the water.” Yet the stasis doesn’t last long thanks to a special someone who, at his lowest ebb, sees more in him than he does. “With Different Eyes” finds him reminded of his youth and “slipping out of touch” after spotting a kid walking in the street, but instead of turning inward he reaches out: “Won’t you walk with me/I need some good company.” The use of harmonica, both here and elsewhere, adds a throwback feel to the goings-on—as does the philosophical musings he weaves into his lyrics. “Time passes by and heals the pain/Of loss and hurt you can’t explain/The road is long/But you won’t walk alone.”

“Running,” as obvious from the first paragraph, tackles a similar theme as “In the Water.” The gentle “Stepping Stones,” meanwhile, finds him stepping forward on behalf of another (“Both of us/Are growing up/Tiny feet/A small heart beat”) and vowing to always be there when or if times turn tough: “When the hard fast river flows/I’m gonna be your stepping stones.” The title track, which follows, celebrates the Lake District in North West England, an area that soothes his oft-aching soul. The song that follows, “Skylarks,” honors other locales that do the same, though in this instance they’re both literal and figurative—his childhood home and memories of his father.

“Old Scrapbook” delves into the fleeting nature of life and love, and how both leave us scarred to an extent. “It’s All for You” is an affirmation of love that includes him questioning whether he wasted time wishing on the wrong star. “Miss You Dearly,” the penultimate track, hides his disenchantment with the music business, which can make artists forget why they got into it in the first place—the love of music. The album concludes with “California,” which juxtaposes the tour that left him deflated with his newfound happiness. 

As a whole, Waterlands conjures past eras while remaining firmly footed in the present. At times, Lloyd—an articulate wordsmith with a pop sensibility—reminds me of artists as disparate as Jackson Browne and Paul McCartney, not to mention Oasis and such modern singer-songwriters as Lucy Rose. Though he mines his own experiences for his songs, the result is far from a navel-gazing exercise; you’ll hear aspects of your own life in his lyrics. It’s an excellent album. Give it a go.

The track list:

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