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James McArthur And The Head Gardeners James McArthur And The Head Gardeners
Album: Burnt Moth
Label: Moreland
Tracks: 10

The Welsh born folk singer returns with his second album. Following up 'Strange Readings From The Weather Station', it finds him again taking a stint at the front after experiencing life at the back of the stage being the backbone of the sound as Paul Weller's sticksman. And once again, he takes on vocals, acoustic guitar, harmonica and piano as well as some percussion along with his Head Gardeners quartet; most significantly Jim Willis' violin and mandolin and John O' Sullivan's pedal steel adding subtle hints of melancholy on an album which oozes calm and tranquillity, referencing all manner of distant and hazy folk memories.

It's the perfect antidote to the usual festive seasonal madness. A hint of a Spring thaw with an aura of delectability, a vibe which brings together acoustic guitar with mellow strings providing a layer for the McArthur vocal to drift over. There's an unexpected propensity for some subtle guitar playing, notes tumbling lightly giving a pleasantly warm coating, but enough of the eulogising. 'Burnt Moth' is a gently dappled set of songs, the tone set from the outset with '14 Seconds' and the easy rhythms of 'What The Day Holds'. The piano led 'To Do' shifts the instrumental backdrop making the most of what isn't played rather than what is. Not exactly sparse, yet refined and restrained. There's a genial flow to the album as songs merge and blend into a soundtrack which proves pastoral and mellow - the pedal steel nudging the material occasionally towards Americana - 'Burnt Moth' evokes an English-ness of the likes of the The Kinks combined with the times in the early Genesis catalogue when things were more simple and Phil Collins made tentative steps into the spotlight.

Whether or not he'll be taking his previous lead and relying on the unique, an interesting touch of showcasing the album in a small caravan to audiences of two at a time, remains to be seen. Nonetheless, the advice is to have a good listen, pop 'the moth' into hibernation and dig it out again when you're turning your clocks to British Summer Time to find its perfect place in the sun.

Mike Ainscoe