CD: Lou Fellingham

And when we've got hold of each new Phatfish album, we've eagerly torn off the cellowrap, keen to look at the booklet and the traycard, hoping that this time there'll be a decent, in focus, clear photo of the lovely Louise. But we've been disappointed nearly every time (at least the focus is right on the Faithful pics…)

So when my copy of Lou Fellingham's first, and long-awaited solo album Treasure arrived, the eagerness was coupled with certainty, and did not disappoint: we have great, well-composed photos showing the beautiful singer in fine form, and then there's a great close up on the last page which emphasises how gorgeous her eyes and smile really are. There's still the old question of 'what should I do with my hands?' and sometimes the answer seems to be 'fiddle nervously with your tummy-button-ring', sometimes 'shove your thumbs in your belt loops and point at your zip', but concludes with 'hold this expensive-looking studio vocal microphone, sit down in a big old chair and lean well forward.' There's a nice mixture of seriousness and Lou's attractive smile, and the vast rock of her wedding ring is in evidence in every pic. No confusion there, then.

How lovely to get a mention in the credits; cheers, mate!

Once again the correct use of the English language has deserted Executive Producer dear old Stephen Doherty of Kingsway Music. He describes the powerful Prayer Song as heart-rendering. My dictionary says that rendering is to do with repayment (esp to Caesar), covering things (a wall with plaster, for example) or boiling down fat to its constituent parts. Hopefully, what he meant was rending, which is to do with wrenching and splitting. Doesn't anyone check these things? Makes him look foolish.

More annoying still is the final suggestion: 'sit back, relax and discover the Treasure'. This is a worship album, and the last thing God desires of us is to doze off while we were focusing our attention on him. 'Sit up, engage your spirit with the heart of the Lord and rejoice in the treasure' might have been nearer the mark. Ho, hum, Kingsway Music. How disappointing. I hope that doesn't put too many browsers off when they see that. It's poor marketing, frankly, of an album that deserves the best we have to offer. Since there are so many apparently competing CDs out there, then making this one stand out would have been a good idea.

So much for the packaging; the real issue is the sound of the disc, I understand that. It's a collection of familiar and new songs, with a new selection of musicians and a new producer (busbee), which gives the Lou Fellingham voice a different flavour. There's not a lot of the Alan Rose hard edge, and there's not a lot of the complex, skilful hubby drumming either. But the musicianship is of quality, and the idea flow throughout. No middle-of-the-roadness here; more to my taste than the generally safe Faithful, less radio-friendly than Fishtank.

The new songs are mostly Nathan and Louise creations, and they seems to be as good a songwriting team as you could wish for

O God of Love
The American chatter as the track opens sets a freshness of tone; the spangly acoustic guitar is friendly and welcoming. Sparce electric arpeggios add, and then the golden-tonsilled one arrives. But this is no throat-clearance; this is a confident, rich voice with depth and (let's not deny it) a little more maturity, too. The song is packed with scriptures and still has that annoying bit in the chorus where the words don't quite scan with the rhythm of the tune ('to be loved', when 'to be loved' would have made more immediate sense), but apart from that niggle, it's a classic worship song, causing the heart to rise in glorying the Lord.

Here is superb honesty about the struggle we sometimes have; the desire to do the right thing, but the 'heavens like brass' echo of our prayers and the distracting perils all around. But the chorus finds a solution, falling into the arms of Jesus, letting his love surround us and comfort us.

The catchy tune and positive vibe are infectious; surely things aren't as gloomy as we first thought? It reminds me of some of the Psalms of David, where he begins with terms of miserable depression, and end us admonishing his soul to praise the Lord.

Makes you wonder what Lou's mum has been suffering.

Amazing Love
The theological high-point of the album, this is a cast-iron congregation song, ready for Aled Jones to introduce.

Does that sound a bit cynical? I don't mean it to be. I think this song has every hallmark of a great church song, packed with truth and easy to learn.

I really like the way the ending just hangs, ready for twinkling or whatever your churchmanship allows.

Build this House
Lou's passion to be the woman God has made her to be shines through. She expresses heartfelt desire to be a beacon of purity and clarity, glorifying Jesus.

I think this one will be taken up in congregations, too, where songs like Holiness unto Jesus and Just as I am still feature on the playlist.

The B3 and girlie choir towards the end of the song are absolutely fine.

The title track begins with four on the floor, and drives along with lots of quality lyrics before the bar. This creates a compelling pace and forgives the occasional telecaster sound.

Before the Throne of God above
A fabulous hymn, crammed with theology and reality, which excellently showcases the clarity and accuracy of Lou's technique. 'One with himself I cannot die' is a line impossible to sing without the heart being stirred, and this tune (Vicky Cook) fits well, rising and falling in just the right places.

Again, the B3 features in excellent proportion. I like the apparently freeform section at the end, when the drummer, the choir and the lead vocal take turns to experiment.

Holy Ground
Lovely echoey piano sets the scene for a tender, adoring anthem about the key characteristic of God: his holiness. Again the guitar is a bit yee-har, but by the time you notice it, you're already worshipping and lost in the wonder.

Sing to the Lord
Gospel groove a-la Kate Simmonds makes an appearance here, and it's superbly done, with choir and Hammond and jazzy licks. Great last note from the one with the precious-metal throat equipment, and then the sustained piano competes with A Day in the Life.

Coming Home
Another great groove, with a song about the welcome God gives us when we repent from our disobedience. Entertainly boxy guitar sound, plus a sort of Bruce Hornsby & the Range piano part set up a great accompaniment for double-tracked Lou, which is twice as nice.

I will say
The softer tones of Lou's vocal are evident at the start of this declaration of a deep, assured faith. How appropriate that the song is dedicated to another Godly couple, Matt & Lesley Parker, who have obediently uprooted themselves and crossed the planet to serve the Lord.

Was the key-change necessary? Perhaps not, but I love the reprise ending, with just chordal piano.

God of Mercy (Prayer Song)
Hope was a great album and this song a strong favourite. The plea for God's presence to be felt by suffering aids orphans in Africa comes from Lou's heart of compassion, but you sense there's little need to twist God's arm - he's on the case already. That's the wonder and mystery of prayer, asking God to do things he's already doing…

A fabulous note, hit right in the middle, without show but without anxiety, either, on 'but I know that you are watching over them'.

Let it Rain
Keys, drums, percussion toys, thumping piano; it's all there at the start of the final track. Paul Oakley's Elijah the Weather Forecaster song gets a tuneful, lively outing, with full powerchords, choir, B3, synth twiddling and antiphonal chorus. And Lou does one of her great contentful prayers over the final repeat, calling on God for families and churches and all the other place where the refreshing rain from heaven will bring newness of life.

Not a problem, but perhaps you might have finished with another of your excellent songs, rather than a cover?

An album full of quality, glory, musicianship, nice production; it was worth the wait. Many of us have been hoping it's not signalling the end of the Phatfish era, but if that's how it is, then we'll be more than eager to welcome the solo era. Let's hope and pray that this album does sufficient business to mean that you won't any longer be forced by reason of financial hardship to guest on other people's discs, singing about what can only be described in mixed company as 'gaseous digestive eructations' (you know who you are)…

I think this one will be in my player for some time.