Nottingham singer Steve McCabe’s debut has been a long time coming. Conceived in 2011 and drawn from ten years’ worth of material, it has finally been released on the tiny Kraków-based label Resonating Wood. And it was well worth the wait. McCabe is a fleet-fingered acoustic guitarist whose nimble and seemingly feather-light compositions draw from British and Spanish folk traditions whilst suggesting a more progressive direction.
The arrangements throughout Painting The Evil Man are deceptively simple. Time Is On Your Side dips into a melodic brand of flamenco – McCabe lists among his influences Paco De Lucia – before overdubbed vocals turn it into an atmospheric folk song, Big Bother displays a lyrical lightness of touch that is perfectly complemented by intricate, spidery guitar passages, and bittersweet opener Carnival gives a child’s-eye view of the travelling life – John Renbourn meets David Essex, if you will.
McCabe is at his best when, as in Night Is Young, the prettiness of his guitar is given room and is accompanied by hushed and intimate vocals. In fact intimacy is a key word here. There is a private, confessional aspect to songs like Whose Are You, which might help explain why their author has kept them close to his chest for such a long time. But, perhaps surprisingly, these songs never seem over-prepared or overworked. On the contrary, they glitter with concise clarity and idiosyncratic charm, none more so than the unusual and emotive Under The Sun, a lyrically enigmatic meditation on the passing of time which is both personal and universal.
Dotted across the album are hints of a jazzier style, most notably in The Boatman. But unlike many examples of guitar-based jazz this is much more than just wallpaper music. The dextrous blending of styles, the dash of pathos and the bite of humour elevate it to something far more special.
McCabe’s variety of folk music is one thankfully untouched by fashion. The simplicity of Painting The Evil Man makes it sound as if it could have been released at any time in the last forty years. Its incredible musical proficiency means that it will, in a fair world, endure for at least the next forty.
Review by: Thomas Blake