This squeaky-voiced Scot looks deep into himself and delivers a sad and beautiful folk-pop near-masterpiece.
Withered Hand is basically Dan Wilson, a Scottish singer-songwriter who was actually worried his voice was too high and didn't begin singing until he was well into his 20s. His voice is fairly high, and may be off-putting to some listeners, as it's also creaky, breaking and often off-key. I found it growing on me and becoming endearing and honest after a few listens, and his voice isn't the central focus here. The music, and especially the lyrics shine like the sun.
You could call his style bedroom pop, chamber pop, folk-pop or all of the above. There are shades of Belle & Sebastian, Jason Lytle, Elliott Smith and even some Americana. More importantly, he knows his way around hooks and melodies, no matter how subtle they are.
It's a rare record where the highs are high and the lows are simply not that bad. Some highs: "I Am Nothing", sad, gorgeous, where Wilson sings with melancholy, "I try to see the world through your eyes / I'm insignificant / That's my size / In the greater scheme of things / I am nothing". For highly depressed boys like me, I can relate to every word. I listened to "No Cigarettes" on the day I quit smoking, oddly enough (I failed), and the song is probably the strongest on the ironically titled Good News. Like many of the tracks here, it's sparse, minor-key, and features a banjo, with lyrics not self-loathing, but more despondent about life and his view of himself. Wilson's heart-on-sleeve, lugubrious honesty is refreshing. He's not whining; he's simply, more than often, just sad.
Other wonderful moments include "Religious Songs", not unlike Mojave 3 or early Bright Eyes (and if you can stand Conor Oberst's voice, you can stand Wilson's). In "Hard On" he proclaims, "A beard don't make you a man / No, it takes something else / Something I'll never have". Hits home.
You'll probably find yourself spinning Good News quite often, as it becomes more and more pleasant with each listen. It's certainly not the feel-good record of the year, but it's not so depressing that it will alienate those strange people who are optimistic and happy.