Review of Zak Whitefields third EP, the tellingly titled 'To Anywhere...'
Much as it may pain some music moguls to hear in the newly minted 2014, there really are no short-cuts to success. Regardless of whether you're a tear-stained reality TV contestant, a tweed-waistcoat clad, banjo-carrying faux folkster or a well fed dancer who is happy to collect minimum wage in the 'next big boy-band,' good old fashioned elbow grease is not only unavoidable, it's downright essential if you want to create music that truly has something to say. In short, being interesting keeps people interested and one such act who realises this often over-looked fact is Mr Zak Whitefield.
For the last few years, the Northern Irish songwriter has been something of a musical journeyman, making regular pilgrimages to Europe to ply his wares and learn his craft, while also performing at local house parties, pub residencies and earning a wage from session work too. Yes, his 'apprenticeship', for want of a better word, may be old school, but it's also the best way to mature as an artist – and if you don't believe me, just ask anyone from Rod Stewart to Frank Turner.
Whitefield's third EP, the tellingly titled To Anywhere... sees him close the first chapter in his musical story, and it is a release that's certainly been inspired and informed by his travels; there is a welcome Latin flavour in some of the tunes. Adopting a less is more approach, Whitefield often lets his solo acoustic guitar score his stories, and the accomplished player performs his best work to date on the opus.
Birthed in the White Mountain studios beneath the Sperrin Mountains – a place that nowadays has taken on a near-mythic status for the many local music aficionados as it hosted the Glasgowbury Festival – To Anywhere... features five tracks and opens with the understated 'Diamond In The Sunshine'.
Sounding a little world weary despite his youth ('Oh where did yesterday go?' ponders Whitefield with his opening line), the song is a delicate ballad that is perhaps a little misplaced in the EP's running order, as it isn't strong enough to start proceedings.
Second offering 'Hola Lola' redresses things though and boasts a gorgeous, hook-laden chorus you will be humming for weeks, an excellent emotive vocal delivery and some more than welcome Latin swagger. A perfectly pitched pop rock song that is fiendishly catchy and radio-friendly, the effort definitely sees Whitefield at the peak of his powers.
Next up, 'Sleepless Dusk' takes its cues from the songbook of the likes of the Goo Goo Dolls and it's an impassioned, unabashed loved-up ballad, while 'Shoot For The Prize' is another Latin-infused number that boasts some fret-bothering Spanish guitar, hand-claps and a sterling chorus.
'Companion' closes the EP, a captivating number. Packed with layered vocals and a hushed, haunting performance from Whitefield, his quivering croon is part Jose Gonzalez, part Gary Lightbody. Whitefield's guitar playing is immaculate throughout the song and string squeaks pepper the finger-picked notes nicely as the musician sings 'No-one's destined to die alone'.
'Companion' is a solid finish to the release and it ends the opening chapter of the travelling troubadour's tale in fine fashion. Consider us more than a little interested in finding out where his journey takes him to next.