Sunday, 29 January 2012

Mcrae Weaves his Marvellous Musical Magic.

Okay, cracking on then as time is ticking and I don't want this year to be out before I've completed these reviews. I will try and keep the ones that follow somewhat shorter as I have a number of other things I'd like to write about. I will soon be posting a review of The Squirrel That Dreamt of Madness by Craig Stone. I finished reading this just over a week ago and have been having withdrawal symptoms since. If you sit there from day to day doing a job that makes your brain dribble out through your nose then this book is for you. Even if you're not one of the people who belong to that particular group this book is still for you. Everyone MUST buy this book! Please check it out by clicking on the link (the title above) and read the reviews already posted. Be sure to put on your sunglasses (anyone else realise nobody refers to them as shades any longer? When did this come to pass? I don't recall receiving any memo) before you do or you may be blinded by all those sets of 5 stars. Then you wouldn't be able to read the book and your life would suck beyond all manner of previous suckyness (I know, a made up word but hey).

3.) I was incredibly excited about April's gig and it was the first time I'd been to The Junction in Cambridge, a much smaller venue than I was expecting. This only added to the beautiful intimacy of this particular Tom Mcrae show. At one point he even joked about the fact it was his first ever sold out Cambridge show. Sold out to about 75 people although I believe it was actually more than this.

Instead of playing alongside the obligatory two Ollys (on piano/keyboard and cello) or the full band as on the 2010 Alphabet of Hurricanes tour, this was a special event with a Four String Quartet.

Tom is undoubtedly one of the best singer songwriters out there today and has built up a truly loyal fan base over the past decade with his evocatively poignant tunes of a predominantly melancholic nature. Yes of course I'm biased having followed him since my first gig in November 2003 after the release of his second album Just Like Blood. Each album seems to progress in a slightly different direction rather than stick to the same rigid formula like many artists can do. Even the fourth offering King of Cards, which I recall him denigrating at a 2007 gig following its release, had some truly breathtaking songs. The album overall may have been slightly less well received than its predecessors but my world would be a darker place without it. I remember when I first heard One Mississippi on the album I wasn't overly struck like I tend to be with most songs but then hearing it live at this 2007 gig I was actually blown away. I mean this literally as Tom was singing out the words they were generating a ten ton wind which blew right at me lifting me over the Atlantic to Mississippi like the world had actually spun on its axis. It's now one of (many, it is almost impossible to pick out a few favourites as I end up choosing most songs anyway) my particular favourites.  Thinking back I also recall he had a cold at this time and yet sang perfectly with absolutely no impairment to his show or the sound in any way at all.

The latest album, Alphabet of Hurricanes was something new yet again with Tom and the musicians he collaborated with in recording it adopting some totally different sounds to add to the usual mix. This meant that although Tom's true literary soul remained demonstrated by the eloquently constructed lyrics the album felt fresh and new. Something different from a master of his craft.

While Tom does have a trademark for writing depressing songs (as he admits himself), it's his mixture of such delicately beautiful written words, the unique talent of his voice combined with the serene strumming of the guitar which makes every show a distinctive and pleasant experience. Even when singing about the air slipping from his lungs in Walking to Hawaii I can't help but hang on to every note as if my life depended on it. He sings with such a gusto there's something infectious about it. Infectious in the most positive sense of the word in that the art being played before you entering through your ears is only the beginning. The vibrations complete their journey down the auditory canal on their barge of expression to resonate within the brain attaching themselves to the relevant parts of your mind the lyrics have meaning for. For each individual it may be something completely different thanks to the personal touch Tom gives to his audience at each and every show.

All of the above is not even taking into consideration the graceful elegance added by the Four String Quartet. Sublime. Perfection. Wondrous. Heavenly. These are just four words I'd use to describe this combination. Tom's songs and style very much lend themselves to this kind of arrangement and I feel truly blessed to have had the experience of hearing and seeing this show. He commented himself during one of his many asides about this being how the songs sound in his own head which he can never manage externally without the aid of such a quartet. I beg to differ. For me personally every time I listen to one of his albums I hear it in just this kind of way. Perhaps these elaborate strings aren't actually present but there's something in the way the music touches me which allows me to hear them nonetheless.

Tom played a number of songs with the quartet to begin the show. Opening with For the Restless (from third album All Maps Welcome) they went on to perform Karaoke Soul and Walking to Hawaii (see video below for the latter). The rendition of Vampire Heart was nothing short of perfect. The sounds from the quartet seemed to blend in so effortlessly with Tom's guitar playing and the haunting yet beautiful timbre of his vocals. 

The quartet then took a break while Tom sat himself down near the front of the stage to entertain us with an acoustic interlude. He kicked off with Human Remains leading into Alphabet of Hurricanes. What can I say? There really aren't words to describe the emotion these bought out. Although the title of the previous album Alphabet of Hurricanes didn't actually feature on it, which is a terrible shame given the beauty of it. I only hope it will make the forthcoming album due for release later this year. If not I must ensure I get a video of the entire song if it's on the set list at the next gig. We were also treated to a truly acoustic number when shortly after beginning Bloodless he pulled out the amp lead continuing to play and sing as he walked around the room. It was like being in his lounge on a Sunday afternoon following a fine roast dinner. This was the after dinner entertainment all that was missing were the After Eights. A looping vocal version of Draw Down the Stars also demonstrated his ability to hold the audience all on his lonesome by offering something old in an interesting and new way.

Upon their return Tom introduced what he promised would be a traditional Eastern European folk song he'd picked up on his travels but after a grand beginning from the strings this actually turned out to be a cover of Duran Duran's Hungry Like the Wolf. The audience were in stitches realising we'd all been sucked in by his introduction but he performed it nevertheless with his usual commitment.

They finished the show off with ever the crowd pleaser (and typically the song that closes most shows) The Boy With the Bubblegun, a tale that conjures up visions of a masked rider on horseback taking aim and finally Language of Fools, with strings that pierced my heart.

I've seen Tom play live six times now in various arrangements and each time I leave with a thirst for more.

Check out for lots more information. There's also a forum here for his dedicated followers.

Music of the moment: 

1.) This Heart's Built to Break by The Scholars - eagerly awaiting the debut album.

2.) Another band I've discovered thanks to Twitter, One Cure For Man. Just bought their EP.

Book(s) most recently added to my 'to read mountain': 

The Quantum Thief by Hannu Raianiemi.


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