Sympathetic Stupid

Monday, January 09, 2006

Grand Salvo - The Temporal Wheel

Joanna Newsom, Smog, Grand Salvo. If that wasn't the Melbourne line-up of the year, well, maybe Mercury Rev supporting The Finn Brothers was. Or Bright Eyes supporting REM. No - the Bird Blobs, The Drones, Damn Arms and My Disco! Um. Yeah. I digress. Paddy Mann, the brains of Grand Salvo, was in exactly the right place that night (a claim diminished only slightly by the fact that I missed his set).

He may not have the raw stage presence of Bill Callahan or the ethereal beauty of Joanna Newsom, but Mann does have a large beard, a wonderful part-Celtic accent and a mastery of the simple things in songs. His latest album is The Temporal Wheel, one of 2005's finer releases.

So it's a folk record. Mundane first-person narratives ramble over understated acoustic backing. With just a couple of two-day sessions to write and record the album, there was no time for Mann to get over-complicated with lyrics or arrangements - but this isn't a bad thing. The final product has an appealing simplicity, produced with beautiful clarity by Tony Dupé, who's done similar work recently with Holly Throsby and The Woods Themselves, not to mention his own Saddleback project.

Mann's velvet vocal chords are consistently at the front of the mix, with his harmony lines a particular highlight. He backs himself on every track, with variations in timbre and colour filling out the rich sound. The lyrics themselves are maybe not profound but always heart-on-sleeve. Sour Grapes: "I'm glad you left today/I loved you too much anyway", or "I dunno where it all came from/I think I dreamed about my home" from In My Bones. And "You're sprawled upon the bed with nothing on/Move your knee up closer to your chin/I wanna see your quim/Oh I'm obscene" has such endearing honesty when Mann delivers it that it's not nearly offensive.

In The Morning, which that line comes from, is the manifesto for the album. It's the quiet, reflective feeling of a Sunday morning spent lying in the sun without a care in the world. However, the highlight, and putative single, is Brave Like A Goose, where the accompanying instrumentation really comes into its own. Opening with a simple glockenspiel line, Mann's close harmonies join it, then the multi-tracked cello builds into the chorus, backed by Rae Howell's beautiful mellophone. The track falls to nothing at the coda - then builds again to the final chorus with admirable restraint.

In fact, the accompaniment is an unsung (boom-tish!) hero throughout. Jess Venables' cello is ever-present, providing the body for most of the album. Muted brass is Rae Howell, from New Buffalo, her mellophone starring particularly at the end of Three Cats Watch, with the echo of "My cat was murdered, blood was matted in her fur" to finish the song. The respected Steve Majstorovic (Architecture In Helsinki) drops in some clarinet. And, of course, Paddy's brother Oliver Mann, he of the operatically trained angel-voice, appears. Playing glock and percussion and not singing a word. I think it's a sibling rivalry thing.

It's simply a beautifully crafted folk album, coherent, with appealing personality and candour.