The most critically acclaimed female singer-songwriters of late seem to have emerged from devoutly country or folk roots and then embraced a broader sound in an attempt to develop their own musical voice. Catherine Feeny has not only in part swapped the lush pedal steel soundscapes of her first album for what can be seen as the quintessentially British alternative of lo-fi folk musings, but also her Los Angeles home for deepest Norfolk.
Any devout follower of alternative music will be nigh on mortified to hear that behind this move is an associate of the late-nineties MOR combo The Lighthouse Family (Sebastian Rogers), but any overriding prejudice should be put aside for now as his production here, when need be, genuinely illuminates Feeny’s melancholic charm. Hurricane Glass floats lusciously from, at its rawest height, Lucinda Williams, to, at its softest base, Suzanne Vega or Sheryl Crow, and Feeny’s transition to a broader accessibility is achieved with surprisingly little suspicion.
In his new role as producer of upcoming Hollywood movie Running With Scissors, Brad Pitt has seen it fit to include the track Mr Blue on the provisional soundtrack, and its sad kind of shimmer is representative of the album’s core of accomplished lo-fi melancholia. The sense of doubt and regret that permeates the likes of I Still Don’t Believe You is given an immaculate melody-strewn counterpoint by Feeny’s soulful acoustic knack, broken promises and disappointment fading subtly into piano and mandolin whispers, while Radar has that kind of off-kilter melody and sophisticated lyrical fascination that would transfix one to an otherwise unremarkable Suzanne Vega track, right to the end.
Although Feeny has crept along relatively under the radar thus far, her ability to hold one to the flimsiest of melodies makes her an unlikely mainstream proposition. Anyone who thought that Sheryl Crow’s eponymous 1996 release was a slightly underrated LP will reel at the understatement of No Reply or Always Tonight, Feeny’s Californian drawl having, again, the sophisticated kind of grace that justifies hours spent twiddling thumbs and pondering vague emotions.
For all this lush meandering, great albums rarely exist without abundantly great songs, and it’s left to the poignant opening track Touch Back Down and its Lucinda Williams-esque epic counterpart Hurricane Glass to take us to the LP’s most majestic heights. Throughout the album, Feeny’s unique brand of melancholia is matched to instrumentation of fitting elegance, but the harder guitar drive of the title-track especially breaks the mould with stunning ease, Feeny blossoming into dyed-in-the-wool country troubadour before our very eyes. Something special indeed.
Feeny’s move to Norfolk has spawned a folk/pop nugget representative of her new life alright, but tinged with that unmistakably attitudinal country brilliance where you feel her real roots may lie. All she need do is continue follow her innermost promptings, and what we could have on our hands is a treasure to match the best of them.