(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

CD review - Tom McRae, The Alphabet of Hurricanes (2010)

Tom McRae first appeared on the British music scene about a decade ago and has been gathering fans ever since. He has a melancholy, confessional sense that avoids self-indulgence and moaning. His latest album, The Alphabet of Hurricances, is due out in February or March of 2010 (sources differ). This served as my introduction, but I've combed through YouTube, looking up his earlier work. I must say, I'm impressed. The Alphabet of Hurricanes doesn't have a single off note. The klezmer inspired clarinet band instrumental, A Is For... is only odd bit, but it flows perfectly into the next song.

In fact, the first three songs form a perfect triptych. A Is For... acts as a bridge between what sounds like two pieces of the same story. Still Love You is moody with a sense of loss, which becomes so threatening in Won't Lie. There's an older aesthetic here and the use of strings to add tension is common theme, both here and throughout the album. Won't Lie has some wisps of Kate Bush's Never For Ever haunting the edges.

The album's sound evolves from here: the Leonard Cohen soaked sound of Summer of John Wayne, the Richard Thompson Celtic folk current of Told My Troubles To The River, the nostalgic Billy Bragg feel of American Spirit, the Peter Gabriel syncopation in Please, and the evocation of Springsteen Darkness on the Edge of Town in Fifteen Miles Downriver. These songs are all great, primarily because they rise above these facile comparisons to be something that is pure Tom McRae. Summer of John Wayne takes the Leonard Cohen style lyrics and vocals, along with a sense of smoke and darkness, and adds a dreamy touch of Ebow guitar. The whole creates a compelling, visceral feel. The descent as the vocals are buried in washes of music and noise resolves into a return to the clarity of the sparser chorus. This is a beautiful moment.

There aren't a lot of examples from The Alphabet of Hurricances floating around the net yet, but here are a couple. Out of the Walls has a sad, weary piano and desperate vocals. Can't Find You is a simple folk sound, where the echoed piano sometimes comes in and adds a vulnerable touch. These are fine songs, but they don't represent the whole of this album.

Get this when it comes out and listen in a dark room with a nice tawny port. Can I recommend the Sandeman 20 year?


  1. Apologies for plugging my own recording but American Spirit is up on YouTube too (now I've worked out what the real song name is!)