Richard Stirton, winner of The Voice: South Africa in 2016, coached by Kahn Morbee lead singer of The Parlotones, has released his debut album Middle Ground. The talented Cape Town based guitarist and singer showcases his excellent vocal talent accompanied by piano, synthesizer effects, indie drumming and subtle vocal manipulation to create an album themed on love, dance and breakup songs. The album also contains covers of “Skinny Love” and “Sound of Silence”. The album as a whole is a mellow combination of indie, ballads and pop influences that you may find on your local radio stations and youth playlists, including Matt Corby and Bon Iver. Universal Music and Stirton have launched an album that is highly appropriate for easy listening on the radio.
The thematic of love begin with the very first song, “Break the Silence” introducing us to a gentler but warmer side to Stirton’s voice, an honest and warm voice that sits in his chest. “What Tears Me the Most” starts out like any love song on the radio, but treats its audience to a pleasant surprise of Stirton’s natural rasp towards the end of the song. The album’s structure, although different in style and melody between various songs, is well placed to showcase the musician’s skills as a musician and a vocalist. “Catching Tears”, for example, is the most interesting arrangement of bass and vocal sound bites. It is accompanied by intricate light and reverberated guitar picking, interesting moments of silence and drum rhythms that shift gradually throughout the song. His taste for atmosphere is delicious, and hopefully, he will be brave enough to explore this trait in future albums.
Stirton’s cover Bon Iver of “Skinny Love”, which has received high praise on his time on The Voice, shows off most of his vocal range and tone from a light and airy tone, to a grounded and raspy cry that gives the listener tingles. His connection to the song is powerful and a highlight of this album. Stirton breaks the usual formula of cover songs these days whereby slower tempo + solo acoustic guitar and singer = a song that sounds like it has more emotion than the original’ through a free and expressive vocal style that is honest and raw.
His cover of Simon and Garfunkel’s “Sound of Silence”, however, is not as unique as “Skinny Love”. It is not too dissimilar to Disturbed’s version of the song, both instrumentally and structurally. It sounds almost identical, just without David Draiman or a large orchestra. Although not a bad cover, it’s not quite as memorable as his other songs on the album.
“Call It Luck” is a track that best reveals Stirton’s Matt Corby and Bon Iver indie influences, featuring reverberated guitar riffs and the popular beats of indie-pop and the Millennial ‘Whoops’ and ‘OH’s’. His style, although interesting and enjoyable to listen to, can develop away from these in his future albums. Stirton’s Middle Ground will meet commercial success. Although he has taken a safe approach to his first album with commercially appealing music and trends, his tasteful instrumentality and –above all else- outstanding vocal technique makes Stirton an exciting addition into our local music scene.