CD Review: The Music Box – the music and songs of Gareth Peter Dicks

I find it hard to resist certain things, and albums showcasing new musical theatre writing with all-star ensembles singing them have been a particular weakness for me this year. The latest temptation was Gareth Peter Dick’s debut album The Music Box which I liked the look of mainly because it was nice to see a rather different line-up of singers rather than the usual suspects lining up and names like Richard Dempsey, Laura Pitt-Pulford and Katie Rowley Jones got me to part with my money quite easily.

Dick is a Nottingham-based composer who has a range of diverse projects on the go: Ancient Egypt, Jack the Ripper and wartime dramas all seem to feature in shows, though I’m not sure how widely they’ve been produced and his was a new name to me. But one I was instantly intrigued by and could well be one to look out for. His rather eclectic musical palate takes in driving power ballads, Gothic pop numbers and some atmospheric instrumental pieces and creates an album that is undeniably a tiny bit insane, but really rather entertaining with it.

Whatever he is doing, Dick is doing just right for me as he has hit on the elusive quality that grabs my attention and consequently, this is the type of song-writing that ticks my boxes. Whether it is the simple balladry and clear emotion of Gemma Sutton’s ‘Simple Words’ or Abi Finley’s ‘Goodnight Dear Soldiers’ or the quirkier sounds of Richard Dempsey’s ‘Live in Dreams’ and Laura Pitt-Pulford’s ‘What Case I?’, what unites the work is a clear sense of strong melody, so that even when the accompaniment is at its most intricately complex, the singing remains clear as a bell and focused on transmitting the story of the song. The highlight of the album for me is Katie Rowley Jones’ ‘Who Have I Become?’ – a simple piano-led ballad of crystal clarity and immense power that made me stop walking so I could listen to it properly the first time it came on my iPod, I would love to hear this sung live especially as Rowley Jones never oversings or embellishes and so it really hits home.

There’s also a good variety of material on here: the four-way song ‘The Seasons Turn’ that opens the CD sounds gorgeous as Gina Beck, Rebecca Lock, Jeff Nicholson and Martin Neely combine beautifully, but the instrumental numbers are also equally strong – the evocative ‘The Long Journey Home’ being my fave and ‘The Music Box’ running it a close second. I suspect that some songs may be a little bit Marmite (I like Liam Tamne’s voice but I wasn’t mad keen on ‘When Will I Know Your Name’) but I have to say the little-bit-bonkers ‘Crimson Droplets’ is a little bit genius, Rebecca Lock singing the hell out of it

And I really liked Ricardo Alfonso’s ‘No Turning Back’ during which the penny finally dropped, this album really reminds me – in places – of the 80s power pop that accompanied my childhood car journeys, Bonnie Tyler, Pat Benatar, that type of thing, and so I guess this plays a big part in why I like it! It’s probably a musical reference that Dick never dreamed would be associated with his music but hey, I can’t control the associations my mind makes. In any case, I’m giving this a recommendation as something quite a bit different to the norm and so well worth your time.

If you can only download one song, make it…Katie Rowley Jones – Who Have I Become?

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