ADVANTAGES

Tom's been around for nearly two decades, playing bass with the Silos, Graham Parker and Brett Sennen but only in 1998 getting his own solo career off the ground with the North American Long Weekend album. Let it not be forgotten, however, that Tom was partly responsible for launching Ben Harper's career back in 1992 through their joint release Pleasure And Pain; the latest instance of Ben repaying that favour is by producing Tom's fourth record, Collapsible Plans, which more than any of its predecessors shows Tom to be the possessor of an unbelievably distinctive and individual singing and songwriting voice. It's easy to see why this record made several best-of-year lists for 2008, but real hard to figure why it never got brought to my attention earlier! There's a consummate ease, a totally natural creative magic at the heart of Tom's music, for while he definitely inhabits his own special artistic identity he evokes the timeless modes and sensibilities of Americana, rootsy country, folk and s/s balladry with brilliantly idiomatic touches of jazz and lounge in a concoction that never feels contrived. Tom's trademark is complete emotional honesty, which enables him to express exactly what he wishes with a compelling economy and something so close to absolute crafted perfection that you don't feel anything is wanting. Tom engages the listener's heart and soul right from the outset on the plaintive, almost resigned title track (I could say his voice has shades of Jeff Tweedy, but that's no drawback is it?). The considerable impact of that opener is arguably surpassed by the second track, the weirdly sensuous Comfortable In Your Arms, which typifies both the gently atmospheric nature of Tom's writing and the equally atmospheric and carefully crafted demeanour of his musical settings. These are pure genius, with all kinds of felicitous instances of musicianship coming through the mix to haunt the senses; of course Ben's own skills (as both producer and fellow-musician) contribute enormously, adding soupçons of lap steel, vibes, harmonium and mandocello, but you can't ignore the contributions of Michael Ward, Michael Jerome and the Innocent Criminals' Jason Yates. And Jackson Browne (no less) adds his unmistakable piano and vocals to Copper Moon and Why Wyoming. Fine though these songs are, the album's final four tracks are perhaps even more sublime I reckon, what a way to go out. Lyric-wise, each of the ten songs has such an impressive depth of focus that they all refuse to let go of you - well I've just spent the whole afternoon replaying the album, it's that good... David Kidman January 2009Jo Freya - Female Smuggler (No Masters Cooperative)

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