The Czars Val(Bella Union)

The Czars

Val [I](Bella Union)[/I]

On the way back to his native Denver after studying in Germany, John William Grant somehow ended up signed to the [a]Cocteau Twins[/a]’ 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.

Stephen Dalton