Michael Blyth & the Wild Braid : Indigo Train

Aviator's last album, Omni, was hugely impressive. The project's core duo, Pete Wilkinson (Shack, Cast & Echo & the Bunnymen) and Mark Neary (a producer/musician who has worked with Adele, Van Morrison and Noel Gallagher) have honed a very productive working relationship. A fortuitous meeting with a third element, Michael Blyth, led to this new collaborative album - and a further understated but sensational creative burst.

Blyth brought his words and vocals to Wilkinson through mutual friends, and it is obvious why the meeting sparked interest in the musician. From the first notes sung in the opening track, Short Dog, you sense Blyth's voice has been weathered by brutal life experience like rocks are worn by the sea. In emotional texture it lies between Robbie Robertson c. Somewhere Down the Crazy River and the final Johnny Cash studio recordings; a hard won instrument indeed - as the press release for the album states Blyth 'has been singing the blues - and living them - for many years. Sometimes in bands, sometimes in prison and sometimes on the street'.

Indigo Train, represents Blyth's debut album despite his being in his sixth decade. In his younger years he played in an evolving series of folk rock bands in Brighton, and flounced (his own self deprecating, regret-tinged choice of verb) out of an early incarnation of the Psychedelic Furs over musical differences. He moved to California, but slowly entangled with an alcohol problem that ravaged two decades of his life, and made his ongoing engagement with music fitful. Redemption finally came when Michael returned to London in 1994 and studied psychotherapy, then worked as a counsellor in rehab, but it has taken all the time until now for his words to be recorded.

What he has to say in these songs is simple but profound, the lyrics are straightforward in structure - mostly slightly abstracted reflections on love - but the way they are sung makes each syllable resonate. The music framing them is brilliantly composed; Wilkinson and Neary provide an expert shuffle of country and indie influences, and always seem to draw the right card. Sarah Ozelle's backing vocals lift and highlight the songs beautifully - her low-key ecstatic lead out on Morning Star is one of the record's many high points.

The alchemy is stripped down to essentials for the final piece, the Leonard Cohen toned When the Day is Done. The track is possibly the most muted yet exquisite thing you might hear this year, spare instrumentation and gravelled voice used in an authentic evocation of love.

This is not an album to pan through looking for flecks of gold - it is all precious. Indigo Train is class - a rolling, seductive, meditative work of chance, compelling musical chemistry.


Michael Blyth & The Wild Braid Live