A veritable garden of delights.
Fairly hot on the heels of Jim McCulloch’s last release, the wonderful update of sixties folk-rock which was Snowgoose’s second album, the Motherwell born artist mines another cultural seam, this time, sun-kissed pop nuggets of the late 1960’s. While not exactly a household name, McCulloch has an impressive CV going back to his days as a Soup Dragon (with a bona fide top-five chart hit back in 1990), stints with The BMX Bandits and Superstar and collaborations with Mark Lanegan and Isobel Campbell. More to the point, McCulloch released three albums under the guise of Green Peppers in the 2010’s, one of them called ‘Joni’s Garden’, with one writer describing the music as being, “Influenced by 60s folk from both sides of the Atlantic, bossa nova, Bacharach and jazz innovators such as Alice Coltrane.” Much of that description can be applied to When I Mean What I Say, the first album in his long career to be released under McCulloch’s own name.
This album is so light and airy that it should be listened to behind a windbreak in case the notes are blown away before you have a chance to hear them. McCulloch’s voice is a light zephyr and the music is delicately poised with waves of acoustic guitars to the fore with a rhythm section which caresses the songs as opposed to driving them. The wispy psychedelia of the opening song, ‘Blackstick Boogie’ (something of a misnomer), hints at the delights to come as McCulloch captures some of the magic contained in the multi-layered productions of Curt Boetcher with outfits such as Sagittarius and The Millennium. ‘Chorus Of Lists’ continues in a similar vein with its mildly anxious lyrics contrasting with the myriad of voices on the ethereal choruses. ‘Shining Bright’, with Rachel Jack acting as vocal foil to McCulloch, is another sixties infused confection but with a bittersweet edge to it, a song which could easily be inserted into the soundtrack of ‘The Graduate’ without disturbing its equilibrium.
There is some angst and soul searching amidst these billowing pop extravaganzas. ‘Augmented Yet Diminished’ is a shiny and streamlined California breeze of a song with a heart of darkness while ‘Open And Shut’, aside from its la la’d chorus, is as robust as a Richard Thompson song. ‘Come Little Waves Of Light’ is another song which cleaves more to UK folk than California pop with a solo performance from McCulloch which is plaintive and winning in its winsome delivery while another solo performance, ‘I Hope I Can Read The Forecast’, is starkly beautiful in its downbeat summation of a love letter to a tormented soul. The title song closes the album on a beautiful note with a Brian Wilson like reverie, a sense amplified by a chromatic harmonica gently wafting away as the song drifts along quite wonderfully. Of note, the album is available as an “elp” vinyl release which, according to Violette Records is halfway between an EP and an LP. Intrepid research finds that it’s actually a 10″ vinyl record, news of which just adds to the allure of this excellent little disc.