Sounding like a tired and weary group of circus troupe artists trekking homewards through muddy country lanes at night, Tom McRae’s fifth studio album shows clear signs of having been made by a man suffering from a level of nervous exhaustion – prompted by a ferocious touring schedule over the last three years.
But thankfully this record is short on narcissistic self pity and somewhat longer on eloquent, windswept folk tales of crepuscular meetings, heavy seas and worn-out clothes.
The portentousness is ladled on a tad too quickly in places. The claustrophobic atmospherics of the wonderfully titled Summer of John Wayne funnel out into a pointlessly dirgy middle sequence, and Told My Troubles to the River has Waits-style guttural intentions that fail to fully convince.
American Spirit, however, is a gorgeous paean to lost passions that ends with McRae’s voice slowly fading from the speakers as he implores us to “swim with me further from the shore. Swim with me ‘til I can swim no more”. The album’s standout, Please, begins with a rolling acoustic riff reminiscent of Rider on the Wheel by Nick Drake, before veering deeper into a soundscape filled with a sooty marching band, dirty yet defiant.
Now largely free to concentrate on the music alone, following dangerous levels of hype early in his career, McRae confirms on this showing that he’s capable of producing an unfiltered, muggy sound where fires burn only to be quickly doused within the confines of just one verse. This is a far from perfect album, but at its peak it’s highly mature, seasoned music. Exhaustion clearly seems to be beneficial to McRae’s unique sound. --Rob Crossan
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