In a post-Mumford world, it’s easy to dismiss new and emerging folk artists as “jumping on the bandwagon”, an accusation that has already been levelled at many musicians, from Of Monsters and Men to The Lumineers.
The fact that Have Mercy Las Vegas have managed to find a sound that is distinctly separate from the Mumford and Sons brand of folk-rock, while still working well within the same genre, is worthy of praise in itself.
Their debut album, That’s Life, is constructed from material that is noticeably closer to modern folk music’s roots than many other artists in the genre, with instrumentation and song structure drawing heavily on both American bluegrass and traditional Scottish folk.
While it has its faults, the album as a whole certainly possesses a pleasing sense of continuity, lyrically, thematically and in terms of instrumentation.
Lead singers Eilidh Trotter and Crispin McAlpine share vocal duties on almost every track, and while here and there they take a verse or a chorus solo, on ‘Barn Stomp’ for example, their gorgeous harmonies seem at first to be an obvious asset to the band.
Those harmonies are perhaps best demonstrated on the title track, a hauntingly bittersweet album opener that sets the tone perfectly and the bar high.
“That’s life, that’s life, wish I’d never met you,” the chorus laments, “that’s life, that’s life, should not have let you go,” this confliction of longing and regret coming to define much of the lyrical content of the album’s slower songs.
However, these same harmonies, despite their often striking beauty, are considerably overused throughout the rest of the album, eventually having something of a detrimental effect, especially on the mellower material.
With many of the album’s slower songs (‘Suffering Love’ and ‘Uke Ballad’ being good examples) proving to be somewhat similar to begin with, the sickly sweet harmonies, in which they come heavily wrapped, make them somewhat indistinguishable from each other.
Thankfully, although still coming complete with Trotter and McAlpine’s excessive harmonisations, the album’s faster and more upbeat moments lend variety to the material as a whole, with songs like ‘Snakes and Horses’ and ‘Bonnie and Clyde’ being particular highlights.
Album closer ‘Sweet Blue’ is another excellent song, deploying fiddle and drums to great effect during the track’s finale and introducing a refreshing taste of electricity to proceedings, the lead guitar line throughout adds to what otherwise would be a fairly predictable instrumental formula.
On the whole, Have Mercy Las Vegas deliver an enjoyable and technically impressive debut album, and while they are far from the most progressive artists working in the genre of modern folk music, they are still producing material of substance and quality.
Words: Malcolm Higgins