This is a fine collection of songs by Elizabeth Owen and Andrew Jones, known in combination as Just By Chance. All of the songs are good, and some are great. The pop-tastic “Pick You Up” is a particular favourite of mine, as is “Saviour”, which demonstrates Jones’s impressive lead playing. Most of the album was recorded “sort of live” in the studio, and has a consistent and realistic stereo picture – Owen slightly to the left, Jones to the right.
The album begins with “Walking Tall”, a brief song that establishes the basic premise of the album – which is exactly the same as the duo’s live MO – two acoustic guitars, two voices, harmonies, fingerpicking and a whole bunch of loveliness.
The second track is “Let Them Be”, a moody minor key 6/8 song which seems an odd choice to be given such a prominent position. It doesn’t grab you immediately, but is a good song and rewards repeat listening. It was the closer to the duo’s earlier Four Steps Forward EP, and does seem more like it’d belong at the end of an album, rather than near the beginning.
Track three is the sublime “Pick You Up”. Upbeat, melodic, catchy, it’s pretty much the perfect pop song. The verses are subtle, with the chorus exploding 51 seconds in. The second chorus is followed by Jones’s blistering country-inflected guitar solo, which leads into a breakdown section and then a double chorus to finish. The thing is damn-near flawless. I’d be interested to hear what this sounded like with a slightly more fleshed-out arrangement – the duo’s last EP featured guest musicians on bass and drums, and if they were to do another record like that, I’d suggest this track as a candidate for a re-record (not that there’s anything wrong with the version here).
The fourth song, entitled “Tattoos”, is possibly the weakest song here. It’s by no means bad, but not really up to the duo’s usual standard. It’s the first track exhibiting clear signs of studio trickery, with the payoff line “do you think I’m impressed by the tattoos on your chest?” arriving on a clearly separate and heavily filtered track panned dead-centre.
Moving swiftly on, “Upbound (part one)” is a nice little minute-and-a-half instrumental, a fingerpicked solo guitar piece by Liz Owen with intermittent spacey sounds fading in and out in the background.
“Since You Left” opens side two in a subdued way, with Owen pining for someone who’d evidently cleared off. She is very much front and centre on this track, with Jones keeping his backing vocals and lead guitar sparse. A very pretty song with some evocative imagery in the lyric.
“Ghosts” is a radical departure from the previous, with the accompaniment consisting mainly of a virtuosic piano part, arranged and played by guest musician Nicola Hardman. It’s a gorgeous piece, and sounds both lush and kinda spooky (in a real sense, not in a cheesy horror film way).
Track eight is “Upbound (part two)”, an upbeat guitar instrumental written solely by Jones, for whom it’s an excuse to go to town with loads of tracks of guitar. For all that it’s a show-off piece for a clearly skilled guitarist, it’s tasteful and exercises the same level of restraint his playing exhibits throughout the album.
“Saviour” follows, a powerful piece which manages to overcome the potential disadvantage of having a chorus based around a play on “save ya” and “saviour”. Jones’s guitar solo at the end is brilliant, delivering speed, accuracy and feel by the absolute bucketload.
The closer, “Shame On Me”, is a song apparently inspired by a Sudoku puzzle that defeated Owen. It’s an upbeat, catchy tune, with big bright vocals and another fine guitar solo by Jones.
So, overall, a fine collection of songs, some of which are absolutely fantastic. Its only real flaw is that so much of the strongest stuff is left to side two, so it’s not as immediate an album as it could be. Listening to it all the way through a couple of times soon levels it all out though and the songs will get indelibly ingrained in your brain. It’s only 28 minutes long, so you can easily do that twice in an hour, with time left over to stream their earlier melodic-but-icky single Lavender Infection.