Album: Justin Sullivan

Navigating by the Stars, Attack Attack

Andy Gill
Friday 14 February 2003 01:00

I never had much time for the crusty polemicists New Model Army, the rabble-rousing precursors of The Levellers once led (as Slade the Leveller) by Justin Sullivan. This solo debut, however, is something else, a much more mature and worldly-wise offering that extends the songwriter's gipsy empathies to the sea. The music hits you first, though: in place of NMA's urgent roots-rock, the acoustic guitar and Danny Thompson's oozing double-bass on the opening "Twilight Home" have the warm, organic quality of Van Morrison's Astral Weeks, with ethereal strings suggesting the ocean, while Sullivan's yearning poetic manner resembles the lonely nobility of Jackie Leven. "Blue Ship" and "Ocean Rising" convey the eternal lure of the sea and its awesome power, while its epiphanic potential is skilfully evoked in "Sun on Water", where the guitar picking and warm vocal recall early Leonard Cohen. Sullivan has not abandoned his former constituency of travellers, however: "Tales of the Road" is like an update of the old NMA anthem "Vagabonds", lent a spaghetti-western touch here by wistful Morricone-esque harmonica and lonesome guitar twang. "Home" and "Green" deal with the homeless and refugees, and the title track tries to link the ancient urge to roam with modern transport, underpinning each with Thompson's double-bass swelling like the sea, and like the heart.

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