2011's Shapes & Shadows album clearly demonstrated his skill as a songwriter, delving deep into folk, blues and country. And along with his highly distinctive soul-blues gravelly voice and his mastery of the six-string, it's a winning combination in anyone's book, the mature tones of that album representing a mini-triumph for this very amiable and modest man.
Once again united with old friend Sam Genders – founder of folktronica outfit, Tunng – Rattlebag is an extension of that debut, a consistently high quality record that dips its toes into the melancholy overtones of American country music more than its predecessor, whilst still pursuing the folk and bluesy pastures he has become renowned for, with and without Gomez.
The beautiful acoustic opener and title track is typical of the album; rhythmic guitar opening the song before the band come in as one, soon building into a mini-anthem of sorts as Ottewell gently roars: 'When they raised me up I fell…. Somewhere, somewhere salvation comes, in strange disguise'. Meanwhile Red Dress is the first of several forays into rootsy country and it suits him very well, the finger picking guitar slowly building into a gentle stomper, that works its way through the gears, slide guitar back in the mix. Again, its uplifting qualities are unpinned by a gentle streak of melancholy; some of the best music marries these seemingly conflicting emotions; human nature is often always a mix of the two, as we constantly work our way towards a goal that we may not know of, but strive we must.
Most of the songs here are built from an acoustic guitar base, courtesy of Ottewell, before he and Genders get to work on carefully embellishing and arranging each song to its conclusion. Starlings, for instance, shows their innate understanding in welding fragility (also a hallmark of Tunng) with sturdy rock dynamics, while the walking bass and moody blues backdrop of Patience and Rosaries ebbs and flows, before Ottewell steps forward to deliver the most coruscating solo on the album Elsewhere 'Starlings' rhythmic country vibe recalls old school country rock flavours of the early 70s, while the drone-like qualities of No Place, although a little bit different from the sound of the rest of the album, fits in snugly, between the aforementioned Starlings and the rootsy glam-stomp of Edge, before some beautiful organ drone and simple guitar line leads So Slow, again morphing into a semi-country sound. Meanwhile, the vaguely salsaesque groove of Papa Cuckoo represents the closest thing to dance music here. It's another string to his eclectic bow.
A believer in the power of the riff, whether of the bombastic variety or the gently subtle embellisher, Ottewell runs the gauntlet of guitar styles and sounds on Rattlebag; from ringing slide bends to bluesy riffing, and from heavy strumming to arpeggiated finger picking, it all has its place; never indulging, nor underplayed either. And while there aren't a huge amount of laughs here, Ottewell manages to steer clear of the overly maudlin and downbeat, mixing thoughts of hope and promise, with redemption and salvation throughout. 'There's a time and place for us/I will take you there' he sings on Shoreline. Indeed, he's right. And rather willingly I do go.