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A Coat Worth Wearing

A Coat  Worth Wearing

There’s a school of thought that says folk has turned into a maudlin cocktail of confessionals and banjo roll styles. Sometimes this rings true. The carcasses of six-string troubadours pile high in every Nero, Costa and Starbucks, unmourned creators of a thousand songs praising nature and sepia photographs.
I’ve always felt Neil McSweeney takes the basic elements of the genre, picks the ones fitting his message, and then purifies his soul through a grittier folk. The forest we are being guided through is a conflation of vocal manipulations, distant guitar and dissonant solos gliding above Leslie speaker organs.

A Coat Worth Wearing is folk, but it experiments enough to move away from the stereotypical ‘winter pastoral’ sound plaguing much of the genre. McSweeney wears his folk credentials with pride but he’s not in his comfort zone. ‘Danse Macabre’ and ‘Forlorn Hope’, for example, go for a mood reminiscent of The Ipcress Files’ stylish soundtrack.

This doesn’t imply folk is trashed, as McSweeney clearly loves the genre. It’s on ‘Atlantis’, where his vocals really hit a raw nerve. With its solemn tone and minimal arrangement - half music, half ambient noise - it’s a wondrous peek into the abyss. Folkier tracks like ‘Waving Not Drowning’ should keep genre fans happy, but it’s on the likes of ‘Strangers of Marefield Gardens’ that McSweeney shines, standing proud in a dead forest of broken ukuleles and moleskin diaries.

Sam J. Valdés López

Neil McSweeney launches his new album at Queen's Social Club on Friday 10 March. Tickets £10 advance via Harley Live.

by Now Then Sheffield