The instant comparison that springs to mind here is ‘All Things Must Pass’ – like George Harrison’s opus, the music might at first fool you as sounding like inoffensive dentist-waiting-room shmooth-fm folk-pop; clean but still sensibly naturalistic production, tons of hooks, catchy choruses, acoustic guitars and simple song structures; yet lurking in the lyrics there’s an extremity of emotional tension that swings between stark ugly introspection on one hand and manic optimism on the other.
The autobiographical storytelling of ‘Love Over Desire’, ‘King of Hollywood’ and ‘California’ read like a musical travelogue, a sort of concept album-within-an-album retelling the day to day experiences of a Scottish musician touring America, a stranger in a strange land.
In some songs, especially when the focus moves away from these engaging narratives, the anti-folk cliché of saturnine self depreciation does get a bit overused (“gie yersel a shake”, as my dad would say) but overall these moments are saved by their intelligence and humour, as well as the underlying sense of defiant hope that lingers on throughout.
And, it seems that Withered Hand does indeed gie himsel the proverbial shake, as the album ends with the triumphant rallying cry ‘We Are Not Alone’, complete with ‘Hey Jude’-esque la-along; maybe he’s more Paul after all?
Words: CR Sanderson