Here are a few clippings of critical responses to A Coat Worth Wearing, all from March 2017. Most of the reviews dealt primarily with aspects of the production and the performances on the album. To the extent that the songwriting was discussed it was often with reference to other tracks or albums. I’m always interested to read a review in the hope that I can learn something.
I’m well aware that my own sense of the recordings I’ve made is distorted horribly by the amount of time I’ve spent preparing the material in advance of the session and then considering mixes afterwards. However, some of the references picked up by reviewers are explicit. During takes for The Call, Ben remarked that he was just going to “Andy Rourke all over it”, for instance. Others weren’t in my mind at all but seeing them mentioned in response to the album I can guess that Andy has successfully referenced them in the production – Raising Sand being a record I know he admires.
Most interesting though is when I can discover new music from links people have made when reviewing albums of mine. Sometimes I have a listen to something and really can’t hear any relationship for the life of me. But in other cases, it’s a delight to discover someone else who, probably via a completely different route, has arrived at a spot closely reminiscent in some way to a place I’ve also discovered.
My favourite ever review contained no musical references and included nothing lifted from the press-release. Instead it described where the reviewer was when he first listened to the release, the circumstances in his life at the time, and his immediate emotional response to the songs. I guess I liked this because it focused on the bit of music making that I’m most interested in. And I learned something about him and recognised something of myself and my own circumstances in his account. And finally, he did me the huge favour of letting me feel that I’d done something useful.
The excerpts I’ve collected here all included some discussion of the songs themselves. Part of the reason that it’s rare for someone like me to receive much in the way of negative criticism these days is that reviewers are likely to just ignore my record if they don’t like it. There’s little incentive to stick the boot in as it won’t bring much pleasure to the readership – most of whom are unlikely ever to have heard of me let alone to have formed an aversion that they’d find gratifying to see reflected in print. Perhaps if I hammed it up a bit I might warrant a considered kicking from someone. Maybe I’ll give it a go with the next record.
Thomas Blake – Folk Radio UK
McSweeney’s songs combine the emotional depth of the Romantic poets with the weird and wonderful detail of Dutch genre painting. He is a true one-off.
A Coat Worth Wearing is his fourth full-length release, and on first listen sounds as comfortable and satisfying as its title suggests, and with that voice, equally lulling and rousing, it would be easy to wrap yourself up in the pure sound of these songs. But that would do a disservice to Neil McSweeney’s writing, and to the superb cast of musicians he has once again gathered around himself. Opening track Old Glory Blues immediately steeps us in something much more unique and universal than the standard troubadour fare. The lyrics are at once human and elemental, and the chorus almost has the ring of a shanty about it. It is stirring stuff, a world away from your average earnest young man with an acoustic guitar.
The closest McSweeney gets to the quotidian concerns of the average singer songwriter is in the gentle acoustic ballad Night Watchman. It is here, when his singing barely gets above a whispered croon, and the musical backing is minimal that you begin to appreciate fully the control he exerts over his voice, and the depth it carries. Night Watchman is ostensibly similar to the wryly observed stories of everyday relationships often served up by McSweeney’s old mucker Richard Hawley, but even here he can’t resist the odd moment of transcendence – his narrator is ‘weightless’, ‘on a fragrant ground of burning leaves. Always there is the possibility of being elevated beyond the mundane into something ecstatic (or else something terrifying).
On the final track, The Call, McSweeney rails against ‘Google gurus’ and ‘crooked captains of industry’, with an almost punkish energy and a menace that once again recalls Nick Cave (as does the gleefully squalling guitar solo), but there is a hint of positivity as well, a sense that creativity can be a force for good, both in a societal sense and in a personal one. It is this that gives McSweeney his distinctive appeal. He reminds me of the romantic poets: Like Wordsworth or Shelley his relationship to his art has a spiritual aspect to it, rooted in the emphatic epiphanies offered by the natural world, but like Blake, he has a darker side, a rebellious streak and a decisive need to push for positive change. It is a rare songwriter that can combine these elements over the course of an album or even a career. McSweeney often manages to do it in the space of a single song.
Keith Hargreaves – Americana UK
Stunning fourth album confirms arrival of major talent.
An album that features an Edward Thomas poem on its sleeve notes is always going to be worth the time spent on it and the rule remains true with this latest offering from the Sheffield folkster. Muscular production and some stunning soundscapes lift the material above the simply strong and into the realm of the memorable. Forlorn Hope has some deep booming beats that underpin the groove and gladden the heart. But it is Danse Macabre that genuinely grabs the listener by the scruff of the neck demanding attention. Hymnal and elegiac the palette grows as vocals collide in a processional celebrating the wolf. There are comparisons to be made with Wolves by Phosphorescence not only in the haunted quality of the storytelling but in the subject matter and manner the story is told.
Land of Cockaigne is a delicate pean with gentle harmonies and gorgeous electronica flourishes. Further highlights are The Strangers of Maresfield Gardens with its Lowlike beginnings of picked guitars, spoken voice buried in the mix and evocative saw, leading to a dialogue between George Patton and Sigmund Freud! This is neu folk, dark and deep – the late Robert Fisher would have smiled and recognised a kindred spirit.
A fine record, beautifully produced and written and performed with a brio and conviction. This CD will become an old and loyal friend giving more and more as time goes by. Highly recommended
Steve Hunt – fRoots
Opening songs Old Glory Blues and Forlorn Hope both evoke something of Robert Plant – the former for its atmosphere of Raising Sand (with Lucy Farrell in the Alison Kraus role) and the latter for swinging with all the irresistible wallop of the Sensational Space Shifters. Land of Cockaigne and Atlantis (not the Donovan hit) somehow recall the pastoral folk-pop of the likes of Heron – acoustic daydreams built on acoustic drones, sustained notes and gorgeous vocal harmonies.
Another excellent release by the new-but-already-estimable Hudson Records, A Coat Worth Wearing cements McSweeney’s growing reputation as one of the UK’s most compelling singer-songwriters.
Andy Snipper – Music News
Listen to Danse Macabre and let the song creep into your soul and slow your heartbeat with tension or move to Forlorn Hope with its strong electronics and pulsating rhythm – no peace or warmth here as he calls out the chorus and you can see – in your minds eye – the cannon fodder waiting to die for the promise of riches for the survivors.
Every track makes an individual statement, none more than Land Of Cockaigne where a sweetly picked guitar and his bucolic vocals are set against odd bleeps and bloops in the backing that emphasise the strangeness of the land in Pieter Brugel’s 15th century painting.
Personal favourite is Atlantis; angular and dense with a wistful and emotive tone that really has you looking to reset the player and do it again.
One of the strongest ‘folk’ albums I’ve heard in years.
A Coat Worth Wearing is out now on Hudson Records