A general life rule must be to be suspicious of alt-country musicians who come from Southport. Somehow, when Brits, with our humble provincialism, sing about whiskey bars and steel guitars, it resonates with the hollow sound of someone trying to be something they’re not. Most horrific perpetrators of this crime include Tim Burgess and Cerys Matthews.
Michael Weston King is a different proposition. Despite hailing from that North West coastal town, he has toured extensively in America over the past ten years, has played the SXSW festival in Austin, Texas and even signed with his first band The Good Sons, to Watermelon Records, one the dustbowl’s most famous indie labels (Watermelon soon folded – King, both solo and in ensembles, has jumped from label to label since). So unlike those two mentioned above, King has not insulted the genre by jumping into it as an experimental hiatus from a pop career – he has paid his dues.
His fifth album is, in fact, hardly the work of a country music die-hard. Sure, there are a few pedal steels and Appalachian mandolins here and there, but the emphasis is clearly on King’s songwriting – which on this record is more akin to Englishmen such as Jackie Leven, Richard Thompson and perhaps Glen Tilbrook, than King’s acknowledged heroes like Townes Van Zandt or Phil Ochs.
Apparently, former Flying Burrito Brother Chris Hillman described King as “as fine a singer-songwriter as Gram Parsons“. While the opinion of a man who with The Byrds and the Burritos played a large part in engineering the country/rock fusion of the late ’60s should always be listened to, he is wrong on this occasion. That’s not to say King is without talent, as A New Kind Of Loneliness is awash with pleasant melodies and literate lyrics. Contributions from Hillman, Leven and Ron Sexsmith further prove King’s pedigree; but it’s just not quite a record that stops one in their tracks. Ironically, perhaps dipping further into the alt-country box of tricks might have given the record a bit more character.
Here’s The Plan is a bright start: a big chorus meeting pretty chord changes, and The Last Hurrah is an emotional ballad he can be reasonably proud of. Rosenkrantz and Kristians Gate (I’m Dead) is certainly the most interesting of King’s compositions, its arresting title giving way to horns and an urgent, beautiful chorus that genuinely puts him on a par with the likes of those he collaborates with.
That is a one-off, as many tracks linger pleasantly without demanding particular attention. His misses – such as Saturday’s Child and Let The Waves Break, don’t miss by much, and his gift is such that he always steers clear of serious disaster. Fans of Squeeze, Steve Earle and the recent Bob Dylan albums might find something in this, but for a more accurate example of King’s abilities, it might be better to begin with something from earlier in his career.