Friday, 18 November 2011

Neal Casal - Sweeten The Distance

Sweet Soul Needed

Sweeten The Distance is an apt descriptor for the process of listening to this album, not that I mean it’s an aural procedure – just that whatever time you spend absorbing these 11 alt-country tracks will be honeyed by Casal’s gentle vocal and pleasing compositions. It’s not a tart selection: time playing with the Cardinals has clearly influenced these Adamsesque songs with their plaintive narratives and sweet harmony choruses; the pedal steel providing background Americana roots. The opening three songs – title track, Bird With No Name, Need Shelter – are the soft and smooth starter.

Fourth Let It All Begin introduces a more up-tempo, trudging beat, but the next White Fence Round House slows the pace again; however, this is a lovely ballad washed by harmony and Casal’s light, sweet vocal. This is a stand-out song and my favourite. Sixth So Many Enemies slowly punches again, but then seventh Feathers for Bakersfield returns to a strings launched and then Country tinged ballad – the strings and pedal steel sweeping in and out in an unusual push’n’shove for attention.

Eighth Time & Trouble is darker lyrically and foregrounds Casal’s guitar playing a little, but it isn’t until ninth How Quiet It Got that there’s a mini excitement of sound in the middle and this could and should have been sustained then raised by a wilder playing of the guitar at its end. The final two songs play out in more sweetly soft harmony and pedal steel, but there is a danger of anonymity in this plateauing. By the end I think some listeners will find it sickly-sweet. This isn’t my judgement - having the tooth for this kind of pleasantness - but there were times when I would have liked Casal to inject some of that lively soul funk he put into the recipe with his work in Hazy Malaze.

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