MAGNIFICENT DEBUT FROM NORTHERN MISERABLISTS
Mark McCambridge isn’t the sunniest of songwriters. The debut long-player from the Ballymena native and former Holy Innocents member’s latest project deals with the thorny themes of “death, ageing and family”. Yet, when it’s delivered as beautifully as this, both lyrically and musically, it’s impossible not to be impressed.
McCambridge is the lyricist, but for the lovely musical mayhem, he’s joined by long-time friend Ben McAuley, as well as Richard Hill (presumably not the English rugby team manager), James Heaney and Jonny Ashe, as the Belfastbased collective combine aching Americana with swirling romance. They veer from bedsit confessionals to Nashville-soaked torch ballads, and even manage to set a Pablo Neruda poem to music without it sounding like pretentious twaddle (‘A Fisherman’).
If you think the female vocalist on ‘Twisted Arrow’ sounds familiar, you’re spot on, as McCambridge duets with none other than former Pixie and Breeder supreme, Kim Deal, on a gorgeous slice of American country, complete with aching strings. But the quality of these compositions is so uniformly high that it’s McCambridge who is the real deal, from the sad dreaminess of ‘Dark Stream’, like Okervil River and Miracle Legion locked in a studio together, to ‘The Force Of Her Will’, a tender duet with Ellen Turley that’s as delicate as a flower in winter.
‘A Crow’ is a funereal dirge, but a lovely one, particularly when the choral backing vocals enter the fray, while ‘A Man Of My Age’ brims with disarming honesty about growing older, dealing with writer’s block and trying to combine being a songwriter and a dad: “This drunken stupor my wife says is obscene/ It’s upsetting the kids, Mark, they need your company/ So I sing a few songs to give them some relief.”
‘The Broken Light’ is a weatherbeaten waltz, imbued with real-life romance that’s closer to David Gray’s ‘Debauchery’ than anything from Mills & Boon, while ‘I Heard Him Leaving’ views a relationship breakup from the point of view of a jilted female: “Oh I’ll kill him, I’ll take the kitchen knife/ I’d rather be a widow than an unwanted wife.”
Perhaps Arborist are a little too in thrall to their Americana influences in places, but for the most part,
Home Burial is a stunningly beautiful debut and one of the finest records produced on these shores all year.
Home Burial Kirkinrola Records
‘The Broken Light’