Vanessa McGowan: Mermaids and Whiskey (vanessamcgowan.com)

 |   |  1 min read

Vanessa McGowan: New Familiar Town
Vanessa McGowan: Mermaids and Whiskey (vanessamcgowan.com)

In a classy cover and under a tempting title comes this, the debut album under her own name for double bassist/singer-songwriter McGowan who was one half of the quietly acclaimed Her Make Believe Band alongside guitarist/singer Cy Winstanley, who also happens to be part of this small band (and with whom she now appears as the Tattletale Saints).

Recorded live in The Bunker on Auckland's North Shore in May 2012, these six songs show a slight shift in direction, the title-track opener being more in the vein of country music than the folk-cum-pop which was a hallmark of her previous outfit. This might make sense given she and Winstanley are going to Nashville to record in the next few months.

But that is the weakest song here -- in places it doesn't quite scan, the lyrics are forced around the melody and it treads highly familiar territory -- but what follows is much more interesting.

With Jessica Hindin's violin adding a slightly European jazz colour, New Familiar Town cleverly links the journey to these remote islands with the great westward migration in the US and pays subtle tribute to pioneers, weatherboard houses and Christmas in summertime as people built a new life. The song has a plangent tone.

And the ballad Foreign Body is a standout -- "kissing him is strange, his lips don't taste like yours . . . it's a foreign body laying in my arms" -- which declares "it's not about love tonight". A sentiment which might play well in Nashville.

Elsewhere -- over the ticking banjo of BB Bowness -- McGowan leans back on folk-pop (with a smidgen of alt.folk) for the yearning Sing a Song, and her jazz background sneaks into the subtle sway of I Could Cry.

These are songs which should play well in singer-songwriter nights in Nashville if she can break into them, but they would struggle in other settings (bars, bigger rooms than The Bunker).

As a calling card this is patchy but promising, although the catchiness of Her Make Believe Band seems to have been set aside here . . . and that seems a shame.

Mermaids and Whiskey is available from here.

Share It

Your Comments

post a comment

More from this section   Music articles index

Upper Hutt Posse: Tohe (Kia Kaha)

Upper Hutt Posse: Tohe (Kia Kaha)

For quite a while it seemed that the seminal Aotearoa/New Zealand hip-hop outfit Upper Hutt Posse might have been reduced down to Dean Hapeta, who was actually appearing under the name Te Kupu (aka... > Read more

The Avett Brothers: I and Love and You (American)

The Avett Brothers: I and Love and You (American)

This trio (and guests) is fronted by North Carolina brothers Scott and Seth Avett who recorded five albums before this major label debut on Rick Rubin’s American label. Rubin -- producer... > Read more

Elsewhere at Elsewhere

The Nightmare from Down Under: Paying the price for gluttony

The Nightmare from Down Under: Paying the price for gluttony

The small city of Melaka two hours south of Kuala Lumpur is considered the cuisine capital of Malaysia, and my happy task there for a few days was to sample then write about the various foods --... > Read more

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . ABNER JAY: Play dem bones and skulls

WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT . . . ABNER JAY: Play dem bones and skulls

There is an interesting photo of singer and one-man band Abner Jay in the late Seventies playing at what is described as a folk festival. As he pours his all into whatever song has captured him, by... > Read more