The Czars Val(Bella Union)
Val (Bella Union)
On the way back to his native Denver after studying in Germany, John William Grant somehow ended up signed to the Cocteau Twins' boutique label and this understated gem is the result. Grant has a voice from another age, all sepia-tinted sighs and lonesome yodels, plus a skeletal songwriting style which sidesteps leaden traditionalism and hits you square on the heart.
Produced by Cocteau's bassist Simon Raymonde, 'Val' is a magnificent, tremulous, achingly vulnerable country-jazz lullaby full of quiet epiphanies and elemental passions. With guest vocals by Roy Orbison-loving alt-country siren Paula Frazer of Tarnation, it sounds like Will Palace covering Radiohead's 'Exit Music (For A Film)' in the depths of a late-nite depression. Heartbreakingly good, in other words. But Grant seems equally at home on Paul Simon's innocent love lament 'For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her' and the Patsy Cline standard 'Strange', which he cloaks in a fuzzy swell of David Lynch menace.
This is music for skipping through a golden field of sun-ripened corn to before suddenly stumbling across a dead body. And very fine indeed.
To read all our reviews first - days before they appear online - check out NME magazine, on sale every Wednesday