By Neil McSweeney
From buskers sat on arse-numbing pavements to famous names gently rocking crowds to the land of nod in cavernous venues, performers who opt for the minimal approach of a simple acoustic guitar and tender vocal are ten-a-penny. To hear an artist who takes this well-worn formula and embellishes it with a flourish of vocal twinkling and string twanging is genuinely refreshing. With 'A Rope to Hang,' Neil McSweeney lays down the sort of performance that comes alive in the ears with such subtlety it becomes easy to imagine him sat on ones living room floor playing the song live. A fitting song for these months of short days and long nights, the floating optimism of the melody couples well with the lyrical content telling of that familiar trait of men in relationships: to shoot themselves in the foot. McSweeney's lilting voice elegantly rises and falls to reveal subtle choruses, framed by a rippling pool of clear guitar.
The flipside 'Chinese Cargo' beefs out the acoustic nature with familiar droning organ and simply-plonking piano, creating a soundscape not too dissimilar to something found on the latter stages of Johnny Cash's American series. Again, McSweeney's voice adds a sensitive, cosmic vibe, almost hitting falsetto, whilst at the same time remaining firmly grounded with minimal theatrics.
Commendable for avoiding the territory of daytime TV soundtrack trodden by so many of his more salubrious peers, this brooding yet optimistic release certainly whets the appetite, leaving us lingering for more with the ellipsis of a fade out. 'A Rope to Hang' is an excellent example of the old adage that less can, quite often, be more.
Like Tom Waits singing Ryan Adams if they had both had the good fortune to grow up in Yorkshire.