King Of Cards – Tom Mcrae

Label: V2

Hardest game in the world, this male singer-songwriter lark. Well, it’s not, perhaps, but right at the moment in a genre saturated with man-and-his-guitar mediocrity, where the that bloody boy Blunt has both energised the market (well, the supermarket at least) sales wise and sapped any impression of innovation from it like a dehydrated vampire with his bewildering omnipresence, it can be hard to achieve any height above the mainstream parapet of inoffensive soft focus. The same mainstream that now sees Snow Patrol as the epitome of indie innovation. Yeah. Tom McRae has been an artist that has tended to fade into that monochrome haze with little definition. Some interestingly twinkling folksiness here, a gruff lullaby there, exploratory songwriting technique in isolation, but he’s never done much to attract our focus thus far. He’s just been another anonymous contributor to the genre, not the worst, not the best. We saw a nice video once we think. That’s that.

So this album has come as somewhat of a revelation to us, in part. In part because it’s a two way split between surprising us and confirming our suspicions. There is much here that fits snugly alongside the likes of Iain Archer, Turin Brakes, Aqualung – passable acoustic tunes with interesting arrangements, but nothing that urges you to text anyone about in a flurry of fast fingered excitement, or even to admit you’re listening to it. It’s track 4, ‘Keep Your Picture Clear’, when this changes for us amid fingers clicks, shuffling drums, restless double bass, presumably a haze of basement cigarette smoke and clenched I Am Kloot style vocals. It then explodes amid a welter of slow chanting, anguished harmonica and, importantly, character. The rest of the record sounds much better in that context, but the Damien Rice-esque ‘Deliver Me’ and ethereal, gospel ‘Lord, How Long’ stand out in particular.          

Release: Tom Mcrae - King Of Cards
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Released: 13 May 2007