You go around the world in roots and melodrama on these three albums, all from experienced specialists in forensic romanticism and all at new peaks in their searching.
Murray A. Lightburn, Hear Me Out (Dangerbird)
With his plaintive, swooning voice and the luxuriant sweep of his records with the Canadian indie-rock band the Dears, Murray Lightburn can’t help being compared to Morrissey. Lightburn is, in fact, a worthy, spiritual descendant of the perpetually anguished ex-Smiths singer — so much so that the latter toured with the Dears as his opening act in 2006. But Lightburn evokes a more intriguing ideal — Scott Walker produced by the early-Seventies Curtis Mayfield — with the vulnerable, urgent songwriting and deep-soul flair of his second solo album, Hear Me Out. The extra poise implied by Lightburn’s middle initial in the billing is right there in the first track, “Anew,” then all through this album — the street-corner-symphony effect of his overdubbed vocal harmonies, as if Brian Wilson had borrowed Mayfield and the Impressions for the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds. While there is a great, overt Smiths-go-R&B moment in the brooding jangle of “To the Top,” “Centre of My Universe” is the more exhilarating throwback — a Northern Soul–style stomper decked out like a majestic ’65 Motown outtake. It will turn the real Morrissey green with envy.
Halfway, Rain Lover (ABC Music, Australia)
From the other side of world, in both sorrow and geography, Rain Lover is the sublime, country-dusted sixth album by this eight-man band from Brisbane, Australia — actually founded further inland, in Central Queensland, in 2000 by singer-guitarist-writers John Busby and Chris Dale with drummer Elwin Hawtin. Enriched with additional guitars, keyboards and the Dublin-born brothers Noel and Liam Fitzpatrick on pedal-steel guitar (the former) and banjo and mandolin (the latter), Halfway combine the pub-army heft of the Waterboys on 1988’s Fisherman’s Blues with the dream-state Nashville of Lambchop and a pioneer-fiber storytelling at the junction of Johnny Cash and Queensland icons the Go-Betweens. Local Brisbane references and addresses litter the Day Glo–prairie settings of “The Old House” and “Night of Light,” but the resonance travels far as “Swinburne Ashes” and “Crescent Lagoon” bring the driving melancholy of early Wilco and classic R.E.M. up to date, to your doorstep.
Trimdon Grange Explosion, Trimdon Grange Explosion (Cardinal Fuzz/Feeding Tube)
Named after a mourning ballad first performed in 1882, only days after a devastating coal-pit explosion near the village of Trimdon Grange cost 69 lives, this English quartet is of more recent vintage — formed in 2010 by members of a previously acclaimed electric-folk band, the Eighteenth of May. As they were in that group, singer-guitarist Ben Phillipson, singer-viola player Alison Cotton, bassist Mark Nicholas and drummer Karl Sabino are ardent modernists within their historical domain, fortifying the original songs “Christian’s Silver Hell” and “Heading for a Fall” with supercharged riffing and surprising pop effect. Trimdon Grange Explosion can also be as transportive as the late-Sixties Fairport Convention across the extended canvases of “The Bonnie Banks of Fordie” and “Glass and Sand,” both reconfigured traditional ballads; then suggest a farm-cottage Velvet Underground in “Weeping and Wailing,” through the drone and high, fragile sigh of Cotton’s viola and singing. First issued in 2017 as a limited-edition CD-R, Trimdon Grange Explosion finally receives wider release in this vinyl edition — with a digital version available at Bandcamp if you lack the necessary hardware.