By Ric Neale
The most crucial factor for the success of any acoustic act, is the lead singer's voice. Thankfully, Ric Neale's voice is more than up to the mark. He may not have the broadest vocal range, but his voice is melodic and a pleasure to listen to nonetheless.
Musically, 'Dotted Line' is very simple, relying heavily on a springy acoustic refrain. However, Ric Neale doesn't fall into the trap of letting his acoustic offerings meander along before trailing off apologetically. 'Dotted Line' rouses itself from its laidback, country swing, through passages of more intricate and twangy guitar-picking, adorned with twinkling glockenspiel. This brief spike in urgency levels prevents 'Dotted Line' from being played out all at the same tempo. Even better, the slight change of pace is so perfectly gauged, that it won't even jar you out of 'Dotted Line's sublime, summery reverie.
Some extra variation is brought to proceedings thanks to the occasional surge of backing vocals that becomes more forceful, and also more frequent, as the song progresses, creating the impression of a gradual build-up of emotion.
'Dotted Line' is a sublime track that's surprisingly dynamic, and Neale has one of those rare voices that can stand without much musical support. A strong start to the EP.
'Someone Else's Home' is weaker than the opening track, although it does feature some neat interaction between glockenspiel and percussion. The barely-there, jangly drumbeats keep the song rattling along at a fair old pace, while the shimmery glockenspiel puts a Mediterranean slant to proceedings.
Again, Ric Neale isn't content to let his songs wander aimlessly. That all-important sense of movement is once again expertly executed, as Neale raises his voice a few octaves and the glockenspiel gains a tinnier edge, and together they nudge the song towards its pivotal cry of "someone else's home."
Neale does occasionally aim for a warbly falsetto note that's beyond his vocal range, but that's a minor quibble. 'Someone Else's Home' is a perfect piece of pop-infused folk, with an appealing, wide-eyed feel owing to the glockenspiel.
The trudging 'What Would Be Left?' is the weakest of the six tracks. The whole thing is underpinned by a plodding drumbeat that completely sucks the life out of the song.
Beyond those monotonous drumbeats, 'What Would Be Left?' has a pretty, summery sound, with whining acoustic slides, shivery guitar-picking and soft cymbals, and a smattering of sparkling glockenspiel. However, its relentless underlying beat and the lack of any build up, will leave you vaguely unmoved.
'Make You Smile's underlying beat is a barely-there drum-rattle for the verses, and a soft cymbal note on the choruses. Around this core, Ric Neale gathers a selection of eclectic sounds, from shiver-inducing glockenspiel, to sudden, starburst chords and awkward, oriental-tinged glockenspiel refrains. They follow such an intricate - and, arguably, random - pattern that it isn't immediately obvious how complicated it all is. It feels easy and effortless but, on closer inspection, it's just really well put together.
On a negative note, an organ-like sound effect is introduced towards the end of the song, and it's far too harsh for such delicate music. However, apart from that, 'Make You Smile' is an effortless-sounding piece of sublime folk-pop, with an interestingly twangy, tinny edge.
'Stop Holding On' reprises the country bounce of 'Dotted Line,' with a simple, springy chord bumping contentedly along for the whole of the song.
The guitar-picking gets a little more complicated for the chorus, and that, combined with Neale's more urgent vocals, gives this acoustic sing-song its only moment of variation. It is a little samey but, in the context of this EP, it's an enjoyable change of pace, and a welcome chance to hear Neale's voice in near-isolation.
'Pleading' would be the best this EP has to offer, if it wasn't for a chorus where Neale mutilates his voice into something resembling a boyband-esque high note. It's here where it becomes glaringly obvious that his voice, while a pleasure to listen to, has neither the range nor strength you might expect. When he goes for those sickly-sweet, pop notes, the strain is audible. It's frustrating, as Neale's voice has, up until this point, been the EP's strongest feature, and there's no need for him to try and force his voice out of its comfort zone.
'Pleading' is the most musically complex song, featuring both an underlying bass groove and some beautiful cello strains that sit on the surface. Together, they ensure that 'Pleading' has both the depth of sound, and the surface intricacies.
This is the EP's poppiest offering and, occasionally, the lyrics do stray into soppy territory, and the lyrical maturity of songs such as 'Someone Else's Home' is all but forgotten. However, the mixture of rattling folk guitar, mournful strings and glimmery glockenspiel, puts you in the right frame of mind to be caught up in such slushy lyrics.
Ric Neale's 'Someone Else's Home' EP mixes folkish acoustic guitar with an unusual lullaby-like sparkle, thanks to the liberal use of the glockenspiel, and also occasionally bulks up its sound with bass and cello. The results is dewy, poppy folk that's immensely more interesting and varied than someone just plucking away at an acoustic guitar, and Neale has a very charismatic voice - when he's not labouring after those high notes.