A heady brew of cosmic country and post-rock ambience.
Originally from Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Michael Hays has made his home in Austin, Texas and LA over the years with a quirky line in jobs (working in a wind chime factory, apprenticed as an accordion technician, and as a professional guitar teacher). He also gained a reputation as a session guitar player and has appeared on albums by Richard Thompson and Suzi Quatro, strange bedfellows indeed.
‘Red Willow’ is his second solo album and he calls in one particular favour with Richard Thompson appearing on one of the songs. ‘Road Will Rise’ is, like much of the album, a succulent marshmallow of a song, wafted along on layers of guitars along with a gentle and languid rhythm section. Thompson briefly emerges, his signature guitar sound quite subdued, but adding a lovely coda to this wisp of a song.
Much of the album is in similar mode. Hays’ voice is light and airy as he glides through the songs, creating a fine bucolic and sunny mood. There are whiffs of pastoral psychedelia summoning up memories of The Beatles and early Pink Floyd along with more ambient sounds which recall post rock experimentation. There’s also a distinct nod to Talk Talk via the sleeve artwork which is designed by James Marsh in his distinctive style. And while there is some comparison to be made there, Hays cannot compete with Mark Hollis but he does come close on occasion.
As such, highlights include the silvery sheen of ‘Flashback Moonlight’ – its ringing guitars sounding great on headphones, the intoxicating Brian Eno like ‘Mescalero’ and the ethereal cosmic country sounds of ‘The Way’, featuring some excellent pedal steel playing from Eric Heywood. Best of all is ‘Come To Jesus’ which has some of that southern gothic weirdness which Jim White drilled into.