- 19 Feb 20
Gorgeous second album from Belfast troubadour
Mark McCambridge first came to attention when ‘Twisted Arrow’, his debut single under the Arborist moniker, arrived back in 2015. It was four minutes of yearning Americana featuring former Pixie and all-round indie legend, Kim Deal, duetting with the Belfast singer. What a way to introduce yourself! The album, Home Burial, followed in 2016 and built upon the promise of that single, earning its way into many end-of-year Best Ofs.
This sophomore release, A Northern View, sees McCambridge doing exactly what it says on the cover, providing his own Belfast-centred view on recent years, including what he calls the “abomination of Brexit.” He’s joined by James Heaney on bass; Jonny Ash on guitar; Richard Hill on piano; and Emma Smith on violin. There are also a host of fellow Northern songwriters on backing vocals, including Joshua Burnside and Malojian’s Stevie Scullion. Ben McAuley returns as producer, and together they create a sound that’s as warm and welcoming as a busy bar on a winter’s night, even when McCambridge is vocally kicking against the proverbial pricks.
In tone, it’s not a million miles away from their debut, all aching melody, subtle instrumentation and soft vocals, from the stop-start ‘A Stranger Heart’ to the gorgeous ‘From The Sagging Boughs Of A Maple’. The brass-fuelled ‘Can I Add You To My Will?’, meanwhile, lives up to the brilliance of its title. Even when he sings “Fuck their language” on the piano-driven ‘The Guttural Blues’, McCambridge manages to make it sound quite lovely.
‘Taxi’ is a spoken word epic about the singer’s dad’s cousin back in the 1960s: Henry McQuillan played bass in the titular Ballymena rock band, who once shared a house with Thin Lizzy. There’s a brief a capella interlude in the shape of ‘The Dark And The Moon’, before the soaring choral vocals of ‘Don’t Let The Sky Take Me’, borne aloft on delicate waves of finger-picked guitar. The bluesy fugue of ‘Too Much On My Mind’ ups the ante before the stunning title track leaves the listener breathless, with McCambridge’s sweet vocal couched behind slabs of beautifully distorted guitar – it’s a six-minute epic that’s equal parts War On Drugs and Wilco. A magnificent way to end a brilliant record.