2008 was the year that made folk ‘cool’ again, with Laura Marling, Bon Iver and Fleet Foxes finding prominence in all the end of year lists that matter. On into 2009 and Moriarty show up with a history lesson and a more rootsy, traditional look at folk.
Shunning glossy production for something suitably earthier and heartier, their album Gee Whizz But This Is A Lonesome Town is consistently lo-fi in its approach, and all the more charismatic for it.
It opens with Jimmy’s melancholy guitar line, a skeletal frame supporting an aching harmonica in a song that swells confidently to a wonderfully controlled melodic explosion. But after the promising opener, what follows is less enticing.
While Lovelinesse sounds like a really square Moldy Peaches, Private Lily’s vocal is ruinously annoying in both its delivery and its lyrical content, despite a musical backdrop that shimmers with intelligent guitar lines and driving percussion.
Indeed, in Rosemary Stanley, Moriarty have a singer whose harsh nasal delivery will at least polarise their listeners and, when at its deadliest, have them reaching for the volume control quicker then you can say “perforated ear drum”. Yet such threatening instances are irregular, and Stanley’s formidable delivery grows less frightening with each listen.
But with the exception of Jimmy and Animals Can’t Laugh, Gee Whizz shapes up as a fairly lacklustre affair until the halfway stage and Cottonflower, a song that is not only worth the wait, but whose sultry, perfectly sculpted melodic interaction boasts restorative properties that almost wholly atone for earlier mishaps.
Other highlights include the racing Whiteman’s Ballad, Animals Can’t Laugh and Fireday. And with the endearing production Gee Whizz is a tangibly humble record that, while it will find itself absent from the glitzy end of year musical reviews, is an enjoyable enough listen.