His songs are backed up by a rich variety of sounds serving to heighten rather than...
Nick Unwin 2003-03-07
I'm usually pretty wary of the 'singer/songwriter' tag. In recent times it's stapled to an assortment of barely flickering lights rarely able to write anything original. In the past, greats like Dylan and Joni Mitchell never called themselves singer/songwriters, they just were. However, Tom McRae's second album is a big and beautiful record from the real McCoy; a David Gray with colour.
Ten passionately powerful, yet comfortingly mellow tracks all stand up in their own right. Most of the songs are filled with melancholy and relationship-breakdown despair, but McRae retains a powerful sense of self-determination. He offers hope and strength without any whiff of triteness.
Following on from his stark debut album, this record reflects a move into the studio for McRae. His bittersweet lyrics and guitar remain, but now his songs are backed up by a rich variety of sounds serving to heighten rather than dilute the power of his soulful voice.
The imaginative instrumentation is revealed immediately in the opening "A Day Like Today". The sampled African intro is retained throughout the track to give a lulled percussive balance to the big orchestral strings. In contrast the use of slide guitar and airy organ give a real Deep South feel to the beautiful "Ghost of a Shark".
The use of strings to reflect emotion is retained throughout the album. In "Stronger Than Dirt" the cello combines with sitar and banjo to give a stormy folky feel. But in the rockier and chaotic "Karaoke Soul" the eastern-style strings combine with the sardonic lyrics to add a quirky edge.
Just Like Blood journeys through the sinister ballad; "Line of Fire", the mysterious, heartbreaking lament of "Mermaid Blues" and the dreamy "Overthrown". Then finally, the album ends grandly with the distinct Mercury Rev-like melancholy of "Human Remains". Despite the emotional turmoil McRae retains a self belief and concludes with a last line suggesting hopeful uncertainty rather than abject despair; 'The picture is burned at the edge and you're looking away looking for whats next, tell me whats next ?...'