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Cameron McGill, Street Ballads & Murderesques (Post-Important) Rating: 7
This is a record by someone who's listened to Springsteen's Nebraska. A lot. While not such a bad influence to wear on one's sleeve, the ghostly sparsity of that record is of a caliber that has never been accurately replicated, at least to the acute level of Springsteen's masterpiece. Cameron McGill gives it a go, though, and a noble one at that. McGill's voice warbles through swarms of piano, guitar, and harmonica on Street Ballads & Murderesques. The substance of these songs is rooted in story, and McGill has clearly worked hard to achieve that depth and these songs are marathons. Only two songs clock in under five minutes and this seeming-substance is not false: McGill's songs are born, raised, and die in their given time, finding the love and pain, the happiness and horror, the profundities of life hidden in words, phrases, and musical tones. Fans of Ryan Adams's Heartbreaker who want a little less indulgent songwriting will especially be able to get into McGill's stuff; he's an earnest singer/songwriter with the potential to challenge the best of them. The problem is getting noticed (he's starting to) and sticking with it (he has been). Don't be fooled by the fact that you might not have heard his name, though: Cameron McGill is legit.
Tristan Prettyman, Twentythree (Virgin) Rating: 5
Tristan Prettyman is more or less the female version of Jason Mraz, except she's cute and used to be a professional surfer. Her songs grace the middle of the road pop soundscape that your parents enjoy and your girlfriend occasionally listens to when she's purposefully trying to piss you off. In case Prettyman's role in the pop canon were in doubt, she has a duet with Mraz on the disc (I hear they're dating). Prettyman is consistent and throaty, but that consistently borders on boredom instead of innovation. Confessional coffee shop pop songs have a place in society, but that place should be limited to coffee shops. Those of you who'd enjoy getting into Prettyman's music already know exactly what you'd be getting into. Have fun getting in to it all over again.
Aberdeen City, The Freezing Atlantic (Dovecote) Rating: 5
Somehow Aberdeen City has arrived at an aesthetic sounding almost exactly like The Jim Yoshi Pile-Up covering Interpol. While that isn't necessarily a bad combination, it's not all that essential either. With a few strong songs and impressive production held back by a limited range of inspiration, their debut proves better than average but just barely. A sense of appropriated darkness pervades and although some awkward attempts to deviate from that feeling sound strained other songs boast catchy choruses and adeptly effected guitar textures. Ultimately though the band lacks any idiosyncrasy that distinguishes them from other likeminded artists pilfering the same set of influences. A little Joy Division, a smidgeon of shoegaze, an ample application of Echo and the Bunnymen and what emerges is something pleasantly enjoyable enough but not very notable.
Brian McDade, Love Bayou (OTN Production) Rating: 7
Brian McDade is new to the music business, but the former construction worker from England brings his life experiences and alt.country-meets-soul roots pop to each and every number on this debut. Dubbing his niche as "Scotiana", McDade could pass for a countrified David Gray on "Houselights" or a strolling Delbert McClinton during the slow bluesy swing of "Two Hoots". Musically, McDade is as adventurous as any restless twentysomething with a backpack and road map, rarely going back to the same formula but mining new ground for some nuggets, particularly the swaying, laidback, humming Blue Rodeo feel of "Paris". The simple groove or vibe on each of these songs makes McDade ease into each song nicely during "Repossed" and the traditional country toe tapper "Promises". The mellow mood that seems to be the thread to this record brings to mind J.J. Cale as McDade is in no real hurry to do anything extraordinary to grab your attention. A great example of this is "Santa Anna Winds" but "Missing Miss Someone" is a tad weak. But "The Night You Lit Up the Blues" more than atones for it as does "People in Grass Houses". Listening to this, McDade should've given up his day job long ago.