Bittersweet harmonies, jangly guitars that music critics are contractually obliged to refer to as “sun-drenched”, and Byrds influenced songs that make you feel glad to be alive. Yes, it’s the sound of young, erm, Leicester.
The HaveNots are a young duo from the East Midlands city that you’d swear were actually American, or at least from the same area of Glasgow as Teenage Fanclub. Liam Dullaghan and Sophia Marshall are aged 24 and 21 respectively, yet seem to have voices at least 20 years older than that. Their music is blissfully laid back, yet never lapses into easy listening.
Both Dullaghan and Marshall contribute lead vocals on the album and both singers stamp their own personalities on their own songs. It’s fair to say there’s more than a touch of Ryan Adams about Dullaghan – his laid back drawl is almost a carbon copy of the prolific alt-country wonderboy. Marshall’s voice meanwhile is strong and distinctive, drawing to mind artists such as Jewel or Gillian Welch.
Never Say Goodnight is pretty much evenly divided between the more straight-ahead summery pop such as Flying or Sweetest Feeling, and the more country-ish lament such as New Lace Dress and Ghost. The balance works incredibly well, giving the album a nicely varied feel throughout and stopping the listener from getting bored.
Highlights are plentiful, although mention has to be made of Papercuts, a driving country-ish rocker from Dullaghan which could belong on Ryan Adams’ Gold album. Flyers is another stand-out which brings back memories of The Lemonheads‘ heyday, with Dullaghan and Marshall harmonising in a heart-breaking manner.
Yet it’s not so much the summery, jangly numbers that stick in the mind when listening to Never Say Goodnight. The slower numbers are marvellously effective, usually when they showcase Marshall’s beautiful vocals. Undecorated is a gloriously sad ballad, all softly plucked acoustics and understated piano, which is on a par with the best of Mazzy Star. Up Like Stairways, on which Dullaghan takes lead vocal, is on similar terroritory making pure poetry from the mundane (“I hang around all day, just waiting to get paid”) to gorgeous effect.
Sometimes, The HaveNots’ come a bit unstuck – both Ghost and A Little Taste Of Death are slightly dirge-like, but even here the quality of Dullaghan and Marshall’s vocals lift it up. They also manage to end the album on a terrifically uplifting note, with the wondrous harmonies of Let’s Just Start Again sending a tingle down the spine.
Leicester’s music profile has had a bad deal recently, with only Kasabian being a band of any note coming out of the city (oh, and Mark Morrison…). While The HaveNots may not replicate Kasabian’s chart success, judging by the sound of this remarkably assured album, they’re certainly here for the long haul.