Clued-up observers of a certain vintage may just make a dash for Mark Andrew Hamilton’s sixth album in his Woodpigeon guise based purely on the presence of his fellow Canuck Mary Margaret O’Hara. No one could blame them: O’Hara’s 1998 album Miss America is still a unique and wayward deconstruction of the confessional form, and a vivid and unsettling document of inner anxieties and deep-held neuroses. Here, she provides little more than tender, whispered backing vocals and while we release the party poppers every time she steps inside a studio, save your hard-earned for that, um, eventual follow-up to her fiery debut.
Or, just stick around. Because (uh-oh) T R O U B L E is tremendous, and a pointed reminder that when Hamilton is on form and on fire, he produces work that sits several rungs above the current accepted norm for popular Americana. So, if you’re ready for a change from the yawnsome promoting of the usual characters – all beards, groove and little in the way of tunes – here’s an album that has the audacity to aim higher than market demands. It seethes with ambition.
‘Fence’, a brooding, lovers dialogue, pitches up as de rigueur woozy pastoral before a rattling coda of just bass and drums dumps the script. ‘The Falling Tide’ unseats similarly: beginning as whispered hymnal, it ends as a nervy blast with snapping electric guitar and a volley of trumpets. T R O U B L E’s dusky atmospherics are achieved with some lovingly arranged passages and a showman’s sense of drama. It’s not quiet and loud as we’ve come to know it, but Hamilton has a smart eye for knowing just when to grab for your attention. So many songs to sink deep inside: the artfully crafted soul balladry of ‘Sovkino’; ‘Whole Body Shakes’ and its bitter recriminations (“Bottom line, I’m an animal and I don’t take kindly to being caged”); ‘Devastating’, whose clipped grooves have a flavour of Tango in the Night era Fleetwood Mac. All told, T R O U B L E is a dark wonder and a timely reminder that this kind of introspection, when candour trumps ego, succeeds largely by fooling you into the songs are about you, rather than the artist. A quiet triumph.