Album Review: Tommy Ashby – Lamplighter

Tommy Ashby – Lamplighter

Folk | Indie Folk



I’m reminded of a throwaway line from one of my favourite films; Once. After recording a few tracks for a demo in a recording studio, the sound engineer says something along the lines of “we’ve heard what the songs sound like on these fancy speakers, now the real test is how they sound on the shitty ones in my car“. I’m generally on board with this theory; having a great album on in your car often just hits different somehow compared to the experience of sitting and listening to that same album at home. I’ve certainly given a few records a retroactive bump in score in my mind because having the CD spinning on a long drive gave me a greater appreciation for them. 

But I think the best albums to have on in the car are the kind that act as a blank canvas. As impressive and commendable as it is for an artist to have a creative vision, a particular emotion they want to express or story they want to tell, often the albums we hold closest to our hearts are the ones we attach our own meaning to. It’s not about the artist anymore, it belongs to the listener – and it tells a unique story for everyone that hears it. Those are the albums you want blasting through the shitty speakers in your car. The music becomes more than just a soundtrack to your drive, it becomes a companion on your adventures, and it will forever be tied to the memories you make along the way. 

Lamplighter is just calling out to be experienced in this way. Opening track ‘Running’ fittingly feels like the start of a new day. Like the rising sun burning through the morning mist, and the budding excitement of what the new day ahead might hold. The lush and expansive indie folk of ‘Not That Far To Go’ rushes by like the wind in your hair as you race along a winding highland road, while the brooding bluesy stomp of ‘When Love Goes Dark’ evokes streetlights passing overhead while cruising the city streets at night. The effervescent and playful Ben Howard-esque folk of ‘A Beautiful Day’ has all the carefree joy and innocence of chasing the breaking waves up and down a secluded beach, and ‘Lifeline’ with its refrain of “I belong here” offers the kind of contentment you get from a night round a campfire surrounded by your closest friends. Every second of the album’s lean 35 minute runtime is dedicated to curating moments of quiet beauty, the kind you usually only find when exploring the road less travelled, or sharing a soft smile with a loved one for whom words aren’t even needed. 

Scottish singer/songwriter Tommy Ashby named his album Lamplighter after a line in a poem by Norman MacCaig. Within it is the idea that certain people can enter our lives and radiate love and joy and goodwill with every step, illuminating the lives of everyone they meet. How that glow can spread, inspire others to be a force for good in the lives of those around them, and that even when we lose the people that made our lives brighter, there’s a part of their light that will never fade. 

It’s a fitting metaphor for an album that feels like such a joyful inciting spark. I can’t listen to it and not imagine a sweet and serene excursion off the beaten track; over rolling hills, across windswept shores, or twirling, arms wide, in falling snow. But imagining isn’t doing, and a fleeting flight of fancy is nothing compared to making real memories that can last a lifetime. The strength of this album isn’t about what it is, but in what you choose to make it. Tommy Ashby has provided here the perfect blank canvas to soundtrack your next adventure. Make it a good one.