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Neil McSweeney - A Coat Worth Wearing LP (Hudson Records)
Atmospheric throughout, Neil McSweeney's latest release, his fourth full-length album to date, requires some immediate attention. The Andy Bell produced album features nine self-penned songs, each crafted with considerable care and each treated to some slick production. Often improvisational musical trinkets tend to jar but not here; everything seems so naturally placed and technical wizardry is treated with a good deal of imaginative flair. In places the Sheffield-based singer-songwriter wears his influences well, whether Tom Waits (Forlorn Hope) or Nick Cave (The Call), the voice demonstrates versatility throughout. The guest musicians are well aware that the bar has been set high and each is prepared to jump. Ben Nicholl's double bass brings to the party a domineering confidence, whilst Emily Portman and Lucy Farrell's distinctive voices can be heard throughout the album as well, notably on the haunting chorus of Waving Not Drowning, a title paraphrased from poet Stevie Smith's celebrated poem, and in a way helps to adhere to the song's ethereal feel. On Night Watchman, we find McSweeney at his most intimate, with a voice as close to your ear as possibly imaginable, a simple unobtrusive guitar accompaniment somewhere in the background refusing to get in the way of the delicate vocal communication. This is perhaps how all of Neil McSweeney's songs should sound, sparse, intimate, gentle and deeply personal, but then we would be deprived of his adventurous spirit on some of the harder edged songs. The album closer is a veritable buffalo stampede of a performance, with the band stretching out into Bad Seeds territory once again; a genuinely exciting climax to what is for all intents and purposes, a great contemporary album that will no doubt make its mark.