Widowspeak - Almanac - Albums - Reviews - Soundblab

Widowspeak - Almanac

by Rich Morris Rating:7 Release Date:2013-01-28

'Perennials', the track which opens Widowspeak's second album, may sound like the kind of song-title a studious old folkie would come up with but, thankfully, this isn't the case. Beginning with the sound of splashing raindrops and the spectral strumming of a string instrument (probably a banjo), the song crashes forth into the sort of dreamy, woozy, but subtly anthemic alt-country Widowspeak specialise in. And a very good job they make of it too.

Of course, Widowspeak didn't invent this strain of Americana. That honour goes to Mazzy Star, and it's fair to say that band must be a huge influence on Widowspeak. The press release for this album does a good job of not mentioning their alt-country forebears (as if only that would give the game away rather than, say, one listen to Almanac), but singer Molly Hamilton's sugary, languid drawl is so close to Mazzy Star's Hope Sandoval that, really, not just owning up to the influence is a bit much. It's like Liam Gallagher claiming he's never heard of John Lennon.

To be fair to Widowspeak, they rock out more than Mazzy Star are wont. Both 'Dyed in the Wool' and 'The Dark Age' are uptempo, rumbling rockers full of FM guitar licks. Unfortunately, that old world folk vibe rears its head on 'Thick as Thieves', and personally, I wish it wouldn't. You either dig this kind of music, with its wheezing accordion and phony melodramatic flourishes, or you don't. I don't, although as it sounds a bit Jacques Brel I should probably try. But I just can't; it just sounds utterly fake and pointless to me.

'Ballad of the Golden Hour' again raises folkie warning-signs but is actually a pleasing country-pop jangle with some lovely slide guitar from Robert Earl Thomas. This lighter sound continues on the following 'Devil Knows' and it really suits the band. You wonder why these two tracks are sequenced so late in the album. Perhaps in an effort to make Widowspeak sound more ethereal and obtuse than they actually are? To me, that just amounts to hiding ones light under a bushel.

The duo get back to sounding like Mazzy Star on 'Sore Eyes' and, as unoriginal as it all is, it's still a lovely song with a beautiful, captivating sense of lift-off in the chorus, where the slide guitar signals a shift from dark to light. The following 'Locusts' is similarly fine. However, we get that old country cliché, the grasshopper sound-effect, on 'Minnewaska', another twee country-folk outing, of the kind 'Allo Darlin are fond of, but this time it's inoffensive, even sweet, and at least it's just a brief interlude before we get back to some more woozy, dusty slide-guitar business on the likeable 'Spirit is Willing', another track on which Widowspeak show their true strength is their melodic nous rather than atmospheric scene-setting. The closing 'Storm King', meanwhile, is Sandoval in excelsis - all dust, wind, saloon bars and smouldering glances.

Overall, Almanac (hate the name, by the way) is a strange album, seemingly made by a band who haven't quite worked out who they are yet. It starts off moody and pouty before audibly lightening up around the halfway mark. For all that this band seem to want to present themselves as mysterious, doomed romantics, they are happy to throw a fair few clichés into their music. You get the distinct impression Widowspeak don't really want to be what, on the evidence of this album, they actually are - a very decent country-pop band with alt leanings and just a dash of folk.

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