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Album Reviews with Ian Sinclair

IAN SINCLAIR reviews Craig Finn's I Need A New War, Son Volt's Union, and David Ian Roberts's Travelling Bright

Craig Finn
I Need A New War
(Partisan Records)

PRESENTED as the final part of a trilogy alongside Faith In The Future (2015) and We All Want The Same Things (2017), the fourth solo record from The Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn is another brilliant showcase of his inspired songwriting skills.

His most downbeat set yet, the songs are de facto short stories, full of vividly drawn characters “trying to stay afloat in modern times, attempting to find a connection, achieving tiny triumphs and frustrating let downs,” Finn notes.

People move to, and get lost in, the big city, bars are frequented, things get “druggy.” packages are collected — mundane tales suffused with an enticing emotional depth by the Midwestern master lyricist.

Best of all is closer Anne Marie & Shane, complete with exquisite lonesome horns, piano and beguiling backing vocals.

Pensive and intimate, US indie rock hits middle age.

Son Volt
(Thirty Tigers)

HAVING played a central role in establishing the musical genre known as altcountry with Uncle Tupelo, Jay Farrar formed Son Volt in 1994.

Union, the band’s ninth album, follows the formula that the US singer-songwriter has mined since then of mid-tempo roots rock combined with his wise, grizzled vocals.

The set ruminates on the US’s current woes, with most of the tracks recorded at the Mother Jones Museum in Illinois and the Woody Guthrie Center in Oklahoma. Ballad Reality Winner tells the story of the US whistleblower of the same name, while closer The Symbol is a sympathetic portrait of the immigrant experience, inspired by Guthrie’s Deportee song.

With its earthy sound and reflective leftism it’s classic Son Volt, though not as urgent as their 2005 broadside against the Bush Administration, Okemah and the Melody of Riot.

David Ian Roberts
Travelling Bright
(Cambrian Records)

RELEASED on Toby Hay’s Cambrian Records, multi-instrumentalist David Ian Roberts’s debut is a very special album indeed.

Playing acoustic, electric, bass, slide and 12-string guitars and a host of other instruments, including organ, drums, autoharp, dulcimer and kalimba, the Cardiff-based Roberts has created a dreamlike suite of jazzy folk.

The songs have a terrific lightness, with his cryptic, fantastical lyrics about the natural landscape intertwined with a more intimate internal emotional landscape. “Days are so thickly sown with thorns, but the rain pours an endless round of applause,” he sings on Sending out Fire, while on the exquisite Lulling a Greener Man he talks of being “a vessel where mistakes are made” alongside some majestic cello.

A gorgeous addition to the canon of English and Welsh musical bucolicism to sit alongside Nick Drake and The Clientele.


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