But I don't know. Regardless of their `patchy' back history - and true, last year's whatever was a double (well, a single, but you get me) beavis on butthead - and the weird caveats that have been accompanying `rave' reviews on other sites - goodish to greatish album, shows promise a bit uneven and such - I've always been of a mind that John Joseph McCauley III's voice is one of them, one of those, alongside the greats - Dylan, Cohen, Springsteen, hell, Hank himself, that school, not schooled, better for it, pure emotion, greater than great, singular - and now I'm thinking that the boy is also shaping up to be one of the great songwriters too. After countless plays of this album, I'd like to think and hope I'll be forgiven for suggesting that there's a big difference between `shows promise' and `shaping up to be'. Five albums in don't you know. This is one helluva record, and their best yet - that said, I could make a decent length BO from their first three LPs (a number or two from the Middle Brother record included into the mix) and proudly stand it alongside almost all others. This album highlights some of John's most incisive and insightful and beautiful writing to date. You know, I love the production (Steve Berlin), some lovely horns, strings, sympathetic arrangements all, close miked when needs be, but it - the quality of the songwriting - could stand alone as a bar-room run-through, an acoustic try-out, or a trickle-through on a crappy third-generation demo tape. His words and vocals and melodies bleed. (Why aren't my italics being italicised?!) Well, let it bleed, then. Also, I'm coming round to the feeling that his band (two of them sing their own compositions on the album, one apiece; half a star docked for the underwhelming 'Thyme') are the tightest and most urgent and empathetic `backing' bands this side of, ooh, the E-Street band. Say what? Hell. Why not? Hubris? I don't think so. Album of the year for me, anyway (or up there at any rate: Guy Clark, Graham Parker, Bassekou Kouyate, Richard Thompson, Prefab Sprout, Merz, Midlake (who'd have thought it!) looking good too). Ballads. Bruisers. But always cutting and intelligent and impeccably played. I'll tell you - unless he dies of an overdose or something - they'll be making a documentary called McCauley & I in thirty years time. Not that I'll be around to witness it. But I am alive now to be witness to a young singer-songwriter taking hold of the measure and mantle of his talent and making a great great record, a moody, eclectic, wise record, a passionate and sad collection of songs, resigned and defiant. But I don't know. I think he's gonna make something far far greater sometime very soon. I am from Macau. It's a s***-hole. Records like this make my life here bearable. Thanks John, thanks Deer Tick. All of these last remarks should be a postscript but, no, the sentiment is far too important to me for them to be tucked away as an addendum. P.S. `Scuse me while I kiss this guy.