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Mikey Kenney Mikey Kenney
Album: The Counsel Of Owls
Label: Smugglers
Tracks: 11

Mikey's a somewhat idiosyncratic (in the nicest possible way) Liverpool singer and poetic songwriter and multi-instrumentalist (primarily banjo and fiddle), who has a proudly unique vision that more often than not incorporates a slightly skewed sense of musical expression. His earlier endeavour Ottersgear was something of an acquired taste, and its charms proved elusive for some considerable time before finally settling into the consciousness. Puzzlingly, Mikey's quite-long-awaited followup project The Counsel Of Owls is more outwardly accessible, and yet its musical soundscape is if anything even more imaginative and unusual, and once heard not readily mistaken on any future occasion. It's not easy to put a tag close on Mikey's music; its song construction is not exactly orthodox, yet makes a kind of weird sense and the musical argument tends not to be difficult to follow. Lyrically, Mikey's songs are best described as impressionistic, although the impression can be of a state of mind or a state of place (the crazed-western estuary-gallop of I Went Out Walking or the hillside of Kindling Of Morning), or even a state of weather (as on the distinctly cranky clip-clop banjo rhythms of Five Brown Horses)

What's arguably the most extraordinary element of The Counsel Of Owls, though, at least to first-timers, is Mikey's singing style, again in the "once heard never forgotten" category. His voice swoops and swoons, ducks and dives, often tremulously or with an earth-shaking vibrato, strangely recalling both Devendra Banhart and Tiny Tim but with further ululatory eccentricities - and he even multitracks his own unearthly harmonies on tracks like I Saw Orange. And yet the effect is weirdly compelling - and compulsive listening.

The drifting ten-minute epic of the official closing song, Sunflowers In My Head, is a kind of plaintive almost-yodelling almost-blues that almost-implies a kind of rationale for the process of songwriting (at any rate from Mikey's viewpoint), but is quite possibly inconclusive as the river of consciousness keeps flowin' (right on beyond into the not-exactly-hidden bonus cut, Big White SUV: another weather scenario, only this time it's snow and a falsetto Neil Young/Crazy Horse melody that twangs on companionably for seven minutes or so). The uptempo Bottom Of The Bottle (another rain song!) could've come from the ISB's No Sleep Blues phase, or early Strangelies, and features one of the album's three guest contributors (Damon Kilcawley on guitar), the others being the delectably eerie Embers, which features Brooke Sharkey on spectral harmony vocal, and the aforementioned Five Brown Horses, which features Nick Branton on sax.

The Counsel Of Owls is a delightful, highly appealing offering, which ok, probably requires a certain effort at first just to tune into its dedicated frequency but once you're locked in it's real hard to tune out - not that I'd ever want to now!

David Kidman