‘Navigator’ is the third album by independent act Cattle and Cane who are siblings Helen and Joe Hammill, supported by a flexible group of musicians that includes members of their extended family. They have a strong following in their native North East of England and are hoping ‘Navigator’ will be their breakthrough album.
While their previous albums have clearly been folk-pop records they have really pushed the adult pop aspect of their music on ‘Navigator’ with the obvious influence of producer Pete Hammerton (known for his work with The Shires, The Wandering Hearts, Tom Gregory etc), who has also worked with Joe on the songwriting.
The album, while short with a running time of just over 34 minutes, includes 11 songs with a contemporary backing featuring a mix of electronic and actual instruments. Vocals are shared between Joe and Helen and the harmonies are what you can only get from siblings. The biggest influence seems to be American West Coast pop of the seventies and the music is easy to assimilate and very accessible. The album lyrics are fairly dark reflecting their adult nature, but the West Coast aspects give the music a much more feel-good vibe.
The album opens strongly with ‘Neighbourhood’, with its piano introduction and sculptured soundscape, soaring chorus and bittersweet sentiments. The lead single ‘Mexico’ with its catchy hook is up next and does indeed invoke a road trip in a big American convertible with the sun shining and wind in your hair. ‘Lonely Room’ is a big ballad that lets Helen demonstrate her vocal skills and it also includes a sax break. Helen is featured on the next track, ‘Hurts Like Real Love’, which could also be a successful single. ‘Waiting to Become’ features Helen’s vocals again but this time against a more rudimentary backing. Meanwhile, Joe’s vocals are given free reign on ‘Leave A Light On’.
The siblings have strong ties to their native Teesside and ‘I Am Yours’ could become another local anthem along the lines of their earlier song ‘Infant Hercules’. Interestingly, the lyrics to ‘Infant Hercules’ were printed inside the collar of Middlesbrough FC’s 2018/19 home shirts. Redemption is at the heart of ‘I Wish I Knew Jesus Like You Do’ with vocals shared by Joe and Helen, and while the lyrics are dark and challenging, the music is more upbeat, aided by guitar chops reminiscent of ’70s reggae.
The album moves to a close with ‘Hello Love’ which features a more graceful backing track and a big chorus ending and the final track ‘Lion or Lamb’ featuring Joe’s vocals with piano accompaniment means the album finishes on a poignant and simpler musical note.
While Cattle and Cane have certainly ramped up the pop quotient of their music with ‘Navigator’ they have continued to develop their songwriting skills and in that way they are still in touch with their folk roots much as a lot of American West Coast pop still had elements from the folk revival of the ’60s.
Their current fan base will enjoy this album and I suspect Joe and Helen will be keeping their fingers crossed that they have done enough with ‘Navigator’ to raise their national profile and land a record deal with a major.