Finlay Morton is probably a very nice man who loves animals and home cooking. Unfortunately he also loves Cheap Trick and dreams of a music industry run by Fairport Convention. If you do too, this is perfectly serviceable unironic trad folk that you’ll probably love.
For everyone else, please take note: unless you spend most of your time pining for the heady days of 1974 and/or you think the most a musician should aspire to is headlining the Green Man Folkey Dokey stage or Cropredy, you’d be better off looking elsewhere for the next bunch of skinny 20-year-olds plundering the Bernard Sumner back catalogue (I’d recommend the Longcut).
If you fall into the former camp and regularly hanker for earnest folk music played by podgy men who haven’t visited a barber in far to long and buy their plaid shirts in bulk from Br Byrite, Finlay’s probably peddling just what you want. First two tracks I Believe in You and Laughing Man deliver serviceable, pleasant-on-the ears folk-pop and though it’s steadfastly ignoring the likes of Bright Eyes, Cerys Matthews, M Craft, Jo and Danny and a host of others who’ve actually been working hard to bring the genre kicking and screaming into the 21st century, it does its job well enough.
Unfortunately, any reprieve that might have been due to ol’ Finlay for describing himself as an ‘engaging minstrel’ on his website then dribbles away with the last dregs of warm cider as he descends into folk-prog hell with the excessively noodly How Many Sorrys – let me tell you, mate, not enough – and its immediate successor It’s A Dream. Again, there are people out there who claim to like this sort of thing, and for them, this review is probably skimping on a star, but for the rest of you, be warned: even the album cover (a badly watercoloured fish smoking a fag and sharing a drink with an ant) screams Birkenstocks-with-socks at you.
Interpret This was produced by Pip Williams, who spent two decades pushing knobs for Status Quo and in many ways you could say that Finlay is to alt.folk what the Quo are to The Strokes, a sort of faint echo of a time and place when there was no need for any hint of irony in the music they’re making.
Take for instance recent single Billy Bird, which starts off with what could be Indian woodwinds but ends up sounding dangerously close to pan pipes (and whistles, claim the sleeve notes). Fair enough, it’s kind of catchy in a late 60s/early 70s sort of way but do we really need a three-minute moog solo in the middle of it? Or an equally over-long trumpet solo in the middle of Dirty Sanchez, which would otherwise be a passable pop tune? Ditto title track Interpret This and a piano. Not that the solos aren’t accomplished: with session musicians such as John McKenzie (who’s played with The Pretenders and Dylan) and Greg Bone (Tom Jones, Eddie Reader, Sting) helping out there’s no danger of not hitting the right notes. It’s just that it’s all so predictable. And dull, unfortunately.
There are moments when it pushes close to the Pogues in a Waltzing Matilda moment or Feargal Sharkey when he tried to become a chart crooner, but sadly these are too few and far between and tend to be interspersed with too much noodling. Irritatingly, the best tracks on the album are the last two, the slower Heartache and I Miss You, which suit the quieter, more organic style he’s peddling. Pity more of it couldn’t have been like these.