The photo of Jason McNiff on the inside sleeve sums up this album: he's caught informally walking along a cobbled street, wearing a battered full-length coat. The photo is in crackly sepia and could be a hundred years old. Until you notice the modern cars in the background. Only the cars give away any sense of the contemporary. Meanwhile, on the record, there are only tiny background details (and perhaps the overall clarity of the recording) that tell you this isn't a period piece from halfway through the last century.
McNiff is a fine finger-picking acoustic guitarist with a voice unerringly like a young Bob Dylan's gentler moments. His vocal tone conspires with determinedly ancient arrangements to make these country-folk songs feel authentically plucked from another time. We're in a place where the second world war is still a close memory, where crossing a country with an acoustic guitar doesn't involve motorways, let alone cellphones or cyber cafes. Yet McNiff is a thirtysomething brimful of drunk passion and vitality, not a pensioner rasping wisdom.
When it works, Nobody's Son is a beautiful pastiche. Members of Grand Drive and mighty UK dark alt-country hero Andy Hank Dog clock on to produce a loose, lush twang. Tracks like 'Adieu To Lausanne' or 'Time Goes Rollin' By' are startlingly pretty (though you can see what I mean, just reading the bloody titles). But often there is something excluding, even alienating in that vast abyss between Jason McNiff and the real world. You spend a chunk of this record wondering what the hell he's going on about.
Another lame comparison between artwork and music: the album's cover is a lovely mock-up of an old Penguin book. You know - the orange and white paperbacks that evoke a classic pre-Sixties England. And way beyond alt-country or Americana, the music of Nobody's Son is similar high class forgery.
6Toby Jarvis's Score