McIntoshRoss - The Great Lakes
I owe Deacon Blue. Not a great deal, but they helped me get a respectable laugh from a few hundred strangers a fair few years ago and for that I thank them still. The laugh came as the result of a heckle borne of booze and youthful stupidity, and my victims that night were the rather fine (but mostly overlooked due to them being ambitious and cerebral) pop group Furniture. As they returned to the stage for a well-earned encore, people bawled their requests. “Brilliant Mind!” “Love Your Shoes!” Eighteen year old knobhead takes his chance: “Real Gone Kid!” Yelled it from the front row like my life depended on it. Seriously, loads of laughs. Even the band doubled up. (2009 equivalent for you young ‘uns? Ermmm. Going to see Kasabian and shouting out for ‘Chelsea Dagger’? See where I’m coming from? Nah? Sod ya then.) Memory fails me for the most part but I’m guessing it was in the charts at the time. Deacon Blue were all over the charts back then, album number two When the World Knows Your Name sending them into arena-land. Twenty years on, the fact that they manage to regroup every few years and fill respectable venues the length of the land suggests that plenty still harbour a fondness for a slice of their inoffensive but serviceable pop.
McIntoshRoss are Lorraine and Ricky, backing singer, lead singer and married mainstay of the band. Though Ross has recorded a couple of solo albums in recent years (and co-written with James Blunt … ahem), The Great Lakes is their first as a duo. And you know what ? It’s really rather fine. Which surprises me more than I can say but what can you do ?
To the point and fast. If homespun, soulful, largely acoustic, mostly plaintive and lovelorn, beautifully performed, intelligently conceived songs put the Laphroaig in your tumbler, you will, I’m sure, find something to touch you here. If that whole alt.country thing is still a thrill – and why not ? – you should listen in. The combination of the two voices, his still the rasp of yore, hers sweet and warm and, thankfully, mostly to the fore, is a delight. The deftly deployed instrumentation puts me in mind of The Walkabouts and the high they achieved on their album ’Satisfied Mind’. That was then, obviously. More recent signposts would be the likes of Isobel Campbell and Mark Lanegan or The Handsome Family. You know where we’re going.
Most telling, though, is the quality of the songs as, for the most part, they deliver. The opening title track is a swell of yearning and dark passions. ‘All My Trust I Place in You’ hits a spot somewhere between classic 60s beat pop and Stax-y rhythms. ‘A Passing Place’ and ‘Walls’ are ballads tinged with sadness and hope, the latter hitting Orbison levels of yearning. ‘Silver and Gold’ gets into a groove that would have Chris Isaak nodding in approval. Or suing. I could go on. ‘The Great Lakes’ is fit to bursting. Credit too for what, to all intents and purposes, is a house band. Mark Howard’s production credits include Dylan and Waits. Drummer Steven Nistor, bass player Daryl Johnson, and Doug Pettibone on guitar have played with the likes of Emmylou Harris, the Neville Brothers and Lucinda Williams. It shows. The playing throughout is on the money.
‘The Great Lakes’ is a surprise and a half but, more than that, it’s a genuine delight. Bar the odd misfire – tracks two and three, the limp ‘Winter is Coming’ and the soppy ‘Bluebell Wood’, nearly stop me from getting to track four – this is a genuinely inspired collection. It delivers on so many levels but what really sets it apart is song writing of the highest order.