Review Summary: Combining guitar work intricacies reminiscent of Nick Drake with the more melodic of Elliott Smith, while delivering vocal melodies with a soft and endearing tone similar to Iron and Wine; this severely underrated UK singer-songwriter has crafted a mas1 of 1 thought this review was well written
In past years Neil Halstead has been lead vocalist and guitarist of shoe gaze band Slowdive who brought a new perspective to the independent music scene. Moving on with a few past members of that effort he created Mojave 3, a British folk outfit that has achieved moderate success in the indie scene. His latest endeavor, being his solo project has already brought the lo-fi emotion packed album Sleeping On Roads in 2002, but now that he has been signed to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records he has everything he needs to flourish as an artist and bring more outstanding music to the ears of his listeners. That being said he has done it again with his second full length release Oh! Mighty Engine.
Although Halstead seems to draw primarily from the folk styling of the early 1970’s as well as singer songwriters from the mid 90’s for influence, he has managed to create a brand of his own. Songs like the title track “Oh! Mighty Engine” as well as “Elevenses” bring both a happily driven flow and catchy lyrics. These songs carry an almost childlike sense of joy upon each and every listen helping the listener to reminisce. I know that I remember the evenings when I was a child and my father would read me stories. Being such a good story teller he would always have me completely enthralled as only a father or grandfather has the ability. Parts of this album capture that feeling very well and without an apparent effort. That is a grand achievement in itself.
Halstead seems very comfortable in his place. His carefully crafted melodies are not simple by any means; even so they remain memorable and catchy. The guitar work is at times somewhat complex but it is so subtle that it does not draw attention away from his voice, it only adds to the depth and emotion of the songs.
It is clear that this album wasn’t meant to be a “show off and bask in the glory of his musicianship” album as seems to be the trend for modern songwriters, rather a journey of sorts, and a very heartfelt one at that. The lyrical themes range from the questioning of life, religion, simple observances, and simple advice. Expressions of disappointment among other things, whatever the songs happen to be about they are guaranteed to be filled with well crafted imagery and substance.
While this album has so many strong points they do come along with a few weak spots. Sometimes the songs tend to bleed together due to similarities in guitar stylizations. At other points he tries to be experimental and whether it detracts from the individual songs or not it seems to take from the overall feel of the album. Regardless, it still knocks the socks off of the modern folk rubbish that has become increasingly popular over the last few years.
This album is not for everyone, and even I will admit that upon first listen I was rather bored by it. After allowing some time for to grow on me it really took over. Once in the proper frame of mind this album can become deeply meaningful and If you give it a thorough listen you will feel true emotion and it will suck you in entirely. Although Halstead is not well known and his career has been carrying on for quite some time he is clearly passionate about his music and obviously puts his heart and soul into it. I look forward to his future work.