Graham Reid | | 1 min read
Now based in Nashville – which would seem their natural home given their country-flavoured folk-rock and storytelling songs – the excellent duo of Cy Winstanley and Vanessa McGowan here deliver the second album under their own name (also there is an album as Her Make Believe Band and McGowan did a solo album).
Recorded in Nashville with the multi-instrumentalists joined by drummer, pedal steel and keyboard player Josh Kaler for most of the these 10 tracks, you can feel a real step up in their writing and delivery . . . which is really saying something given Winstanley was a Silver Scroll finalist in 2013 (up against Lorde so . . .) and they picked up best folk album for their previous outing How Red is the Blood in 2014.
Again we cannot help but note how Winstanley has something of Paul Simon in his most weary delivery and occasional lyrics (the instantly familiar Kathleen with “so your daddy is a banker, your momma was a beauty queen”, and Down the Road and Back Again with “I check it like a stick of gum”) but that is a strong compliment, as is the similarity to the crafted economy of someone like Nick Lowe.
The difference of course is the more pronounced country aspects: Down the Road has McGowan in pure Southern gal mode which elevates the song even further while also taking the meaning deeper.
The country harmonies are deployed sparingly but effectively but there's also some real sting in the guitar work (Sonoma County Wine fairly flies in the solo, the brittle backdrop of Kathleen) and the stripped down sound – the drumming crisp but also adeptly dextrous on the weed'n'whisky Sonoma County Wine and the lean ballad I Did This To Myself which neatly sidesteps self-pity – makes this very compelling.
Like Lowe, Winstanley also writes material which, while influenced by country, stands more akin to classic, melodic Fifties ballads (I Don't Sing So Much No More and If I Had a Dollar which could be re-arranged for strings).
Winstanley crafts memorable imagery (A Scarf of Light), refreshes the familiar (the love and loss on Seabird) and creates characters with real empathy (the quiet Little Richard is Alive and Well in Nashville, TN).
It grieves us to observe that we export some of our best writers and singers, and we add Tattletale Saints to that long list for whom the wider world calls . . . and equally deserves them.