Jason McNiff "Another Man" (Wonky Atlas 2006)
UK’s most under-rated americana artist returns with all the hallmarks of a breakthrough album
Jason McNiff’s last album “Nobody’s Son” was Americana UK’s album of the year for 2003, and a more naturally English but successfully authentic take on americana you’d still be hard pushed to find. Three years later and McNiff is back with a collection that immediately dispels the “difficult third album” syndrome that occasionally artists almost mythically fall prey to, managing to sound like an evolution of the sound he’s already set such high standards for without being an actual, to use the cliché, revolution. The album kicks off in subdued form with the title track and some of the most personal lyrics McNiff has yet written, examining the way people’s titles become far too much of an identity marker for who they are disguising all other facets – there’s a sociological essay in there somewhere. And indeed if he doesn’t want to be pigeonholed accordingly (the Dylan comparisons will still come thick and fast mind you), the album provides many twists and turns – despite the English folk arrangements, the songs were written in Southern Spain and Italy (the clue is in the titles) and the sometimes unfathomable lyricism belies the fact that his stories can be listened to again and again, never quite clicking but you always feel like you’re getting somewhere.
The themes are constant – travel and pilgrimage – indeed oil raises its head more than once transforming a substance these days deemed so overtly political into something with an altogether more down to earth function. While the arrangements themselves are perhaps more lowkey than the songs on both albums preceding, “Delia” and “In Our Time” in particular, the melodies are still sweeter than dripping honey and there are some absolute standout tracks that at least rival the elegiac “I Remember You” – “Broken Down” and “Hills of Rome” are both instant classics which highlight both McNiff’s wonderfully evocative voice and sterling guitar work. And despite the more laid back feel of most of the record, there’s also one big chorus track in the form of “Berries” which wouldn’t sound out of place on any of Steve Earle’s nineties output. McNiff is perhaps the most underrated performer on the UK americana scene today but it’ll be a freakish alignment of missed opportunities if this doesn’t break him through into a name more recognised throughout the country. At just eight tracks long, McNiff has recorded a succinct, beautifully arranged and involving album that demands listen after listen but never feels like it reaches so much as its half life. You’ll be spending time with it for that long.
Jason McNiff appears live in Liverpool on Saturday April 1st to launch his album with Americana UK - head over to our "Hell's Ditch Gigs" section for details if you'd like to come along.
Date review added: Tuesday, March 28, 2006
Reviewer: Mark Whitfield
Related web link: Jason McNiff Official Website