Having released five critically acclaimed albums in just over a decade, Tom McRae should easily sit near the top end of a list of the most respected singer songwriters. Following its release, his self-titled debut album was nominated for the Mercury Prize (2001), a Q magazine award and also a Brit. Strange then, you may think, that following such a breakthrough he has been unable to garner much in the way since. This however, has less to do with Tom's continued efforts and more with the sad decline of the music industry as it continues to spiral towards a baseless culture of heavily saturated tatty pop.
Thankfully Tom has never been in the business for either acceptance from industry bigwigs or for the recognition winning awards brings. He is an accomplished musician dedicated to making amazing music which turns out to be an exceptionally raw form of artistic expression for his thoughtful yet tortured soul.
With a deeply melancholic yet brutally honest approach it is perhaps understandable why he does not manage to get lengthy record deals and plenty of radio play. As far as I'm concerned the radio and record labels can keep those artists, even the good ones. I'd rather spend my hard earned cash on this gifted independent thinker who doesn't hide behind music or use it to divert attention. Instead, he latched right on to mine, holding it fast with his inimitable version of honesty and truth.
Certainly wearing his heart on his sleeve with first album Tom McRae biting deep into your soul with such force it never leaves. With echoes of a world and society gone very wrong, it ranges from grimness to yet more grimness. And yet Tom pulls you fully out of this lonely world to sit with him on the outside while he plays you these songs about the calamitous carnage below. Appreciating the absolute passion with which he delivers his message somehow manages to lift the grimness so that instead one is left mesmerised and curious for more rather than wanting to dig a hole in which to be buried alive.
Second album Just Like Blood (2003) was equally well received, particularly in the US where a loyal following began to grow. Maintaining the same overall melancholic theme, this record featured a large mix of instruments, marrying superbly with Tom's delicate vocals and adroit guitar. As with its predecessor's One More Mile, Untitled and I Ain't Scared of Lightning Tom produced songs with an exquisite delicacy in the form of You Only Disappear, Overthrown and Walking to Hawaii.
Moving to LA in 2004 to record third album All Maps Welcome, he began playing regular slots at The Hotel Cafe where he met a string of other likeminded musicians and joined the newly formed Hotel Café Tour. Gigging coast to coast across the US and bought over to the UK and Europe by Tom twice, it involved acts interplaying with each other as well as showcasing solo material. With the traditional heady blend of melancholia, All Maps Welcome (2005) was more refined than what came before it, demonstrating his artistic development with its fresh new arrangements. It proved this was a guy who was going to keep on coming back for more.
In addition to what have become his trademarks, Tom offers progression with each successive album keeping the output so sharp if not careful you may rip yourself to shreds and bleed to death. Please mop up the blood as you go. Or as he sings in Karaoke Soul, '…We're bleeding into a cup when we've got enough; we'll just paint the walls…' He doesn't just step outside his comfort zone but rather leaps out following a springy bounce in the style of Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. Fourth album King of Cards (2007) had so much more of an upbeat sound if it hadn't been for his distinct vocals piercing through Bright Lights and Sound of the City you'd be completely forgiven for thinking it was someone different entirely.
Also from this offering came One Mississippi, a song I wasn't overly struck on at first. However, when hearing it live at a show in 2007 I was completely blown away. I mean this literally because as he sang out the words the serenity of his vocals were swirling round and round me generating a ten ton wind which lifted me over the Atlantic to Mississippi like, as the song goes, the world had spun on its axis.
The last album, Alphabet of Hurricanes (2010) was something new yet again. Largely written while on an extensive tour, Tom and the musicians he collaborated with in its recording adopted some strikingly different sounds which were added to the usual mix. This meant while his true literary soul remained, the album did feel fresh and new. It was something different from a true master of his craft.
Tom seems to be most happy just getting out on tour and playing to his loyal following backing it up with making new records to then go out and tour with. It's a cycle that's kept him coming back time after time. Thankfully, this isn't going to change as he's currently working on album number six due out early next year.
Check out more about Tom at www.tommcrae.com but don't worry, there is no danger of death. Probably.
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