In the last half-decade, my conversion to The Americana Way (tm) had two albums as fulcrums (if that's technically possible) and they've remained in my CD wallet and been played at least once a month ever since: Hem's 'Rabbit Songs' and Hobotalk's 'Beauty In Madness'. Both might well be pooh-poohed by alt-country perps as too sentimental, cheesy or lush to be useful examples of the form. But they're both priceless. Rich, big-money production without big-money theft of soul. Both can boast a breathtaking lead voice. They also showcase songwriting skills that reach beyond the acoustic genre into 'classic' territory.
Now in 2005, one gets the feeling Marc Pilley's Scottish quartet Hobotalk are only just poking their heads back above the parapet. Back in 1999 they were signed to Virgin and label-mates Gomez guested on their album. Couldn't be further from today, with 'Notes On Sunset' released by a polite Scottish indie, more used to fiddle-wielding folkers or easy listening types.
Inevitably a cheaper record than the debut, it's a relief that the most audible consequence of fiscal prudence is a lightness of tone, which luckily suits the songs down to the ground. Pilley has developed as a writer and now he's producer as well, resulting in a sophisticated closeness to each song's original intent. You'll need to give it a couple of goes though. But nothing distracts from the subject and the instrumentation always supports. 'In The Arms Of Love' demonstrates this best in the first half, the confidence to do less. In particular, the deft piano work is lovely and Ali Petrie doesn't over-play, although it's a near constant presence.
Pilley's voice has a touch of the mainstream folk crooner about it, a bit of James Taylor, without detracting from its immediacy - and you're going to need to wrap yourself in his voice because - in these dark hours of the elevation of Rufus Wainwright and that Oberst kid to messiah status, gooey fromage like Hobotalk will take repeated listening and soon become a blessed retreat from the hubbub.
In summation, dear reader, Notes On Sunset is uncool but very pretty indeed. Always better company than a hipster and usually better in bed.
7Toby Jarvis's Score