Over the years, Tom Hector has shown a massive love for retro sounds on his self-financed recordings. 2016’s ‘Little Bee’ from Hector And The Leaves presented songs that had traces of Brian Wilson and other power pop singer-songwriters lurking within its melodies; the simpler ‘(interiors)’ from the following year teased with a lo-fi sound, but carried timeless influences from Nick Drake and Elliot Smith. At the heart of the material – no matter the style – there’s a man with an old soul, and that old soul ensures 2023’s ‘Flowers’ continues his DIY voyage in a similar vein.

Presented as a free download via the Hector And The Leaves Bandcamp site, ‘Flowers’ is even more DIY than before. By mixing finished songs with musical sketches, it allows the listener a more introspective look into how Tom works as a musician, but – as always – when the material is good, it’s very good. Of particular interest, ‘It Makes Me Wonder Why’ is a track of two halves. It’s vocal parts show Hector in his purest form as an acoustic performer, delivering a selection of really broad chords set against a slightly hazy vocal. The love for Elliot Smith is clear once more, but its by no means a straight copy; there’s also a lovely nod to early Al Stewart in its folk core. Despite its obviously bedroom recorded origins, there’s the shell of something beautiful here, and then it’s all change as a full band arrangement fades in, and Hector goes electric. The arrival of a rockier sound brings its own interest, and the marriage of chiming guitars and handclaps works its way under the skin like an old Teenage Fanclub demo. Trailing off with a world of back-masking sounds before the tape cuts out abruptly, it obviously shouldn’t be approached as a finished work, but there’s the bulk of something here that captures the performer’s raw talent rather nicely.

More acoustic goodness powers ‘All I Need’, a tune that sounds like a McCartney demo fused with a light psych echo. Its purity captures Hector’s most lovely sounds, and even the obvious tape hiss of the home recording doesn’t disguise a wonderful marriage of heartfelt lyric and light melody. It’s one of those arrangements that might have suited a full power pop band arrangement, but instead, Tom settles for adding a layer of electric guitar for the climax, further giving it the quality of an old offcut from 1970’s homespun ‘McCartney’ LP. A different kind of Beatles love cuts through the less melodic ‘Could It Change The Way I Feel?’ when a clanging piano and hard struck guitar chords evoke the ghost of Lennon, and despite being less enjoyable, there’s something about the way that Hector allows his musical soul to be bared in such an imperfect way that makes it oddly alluring.

Elsewhere, those who latched onto Tom’s love of Nick Drake on the ‘Little Bee’ release will welcome the return of his simple musical strokes on ‘A Rose In July’, during which his piano playing calls back to the basic elements of ‘Pink Moon’ coupled with some solid acoustic guitar work. Elsewhere, ‘You’re My Best Friend’ is the roughest of musical sketches – complete with some off-key singing – it still shows off some terrific acoustic guitar sounds, and the beginnings of something that could grow into a folk-pop gem. With these songs and sketches interspersed with various audio verite field recordings from Brighton and London, there’s an obvious feeling of eavesdropping on a musician at work, but when these lo-fi ideas and sketches end with something as simple and wonderful as ‘Goodbye’, on which Hector sounds as if he might slip into Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Blues Run The Game’, before latching onto a high and thin melody that, again, lends the material its own unique fragility.

‘Flowers’ isn’t quite up to the standard of ‘Little Bee’, but then Tom wouldn’t pretend otherwise. For those who expect their pop-schooled singer songwriters to sound wholly ready one hundred percent of the time, this’ll certainly be too rough, but if you can make it past the demo level recordings, there’s something rather cool about hearing a few more of Hector’s songs in early bloom.

April 2023