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Horse Stories | Travelling Mercies (For Troubled Paths / Loose)
A remarkable debut album from Australian expatriate Toby Burke, who currently lives in Los Angeles and records in a car garage together with musical cohorts Clinton Stapleton and Jon Taylor. Don't let the cosy Coldplay strum of the opening Night Falls scare you off, Horse Stories really sound nothing like them at all, being a far more complex, subtle and country-tinged outfit. Broadly falling into the 'alt.country' file, Horse Stories are no mere followers of fashion and routinely set about doing things their own way, refusing to put bass on all but one of their songs. On a track like On Your Side, it's debatable whether one need put the 'alt.' before country at all such is the air of elegant simplicity and sheer timelessness surrounding it. It's a lazy and subdued track that pulls you in and overwhelms you with its casual serenity, and it's only the first of several highlights on what proves to be a surprisingly realised first album. Burke's songwriting, although rooted in contemporary Americana, is equally founded in late-'60s psychedelic pop, to the extent that the more strolling and upbeat songs are reminiscent of a lo-fi, folksy Byrds. Check the irresistible Charge for evidence, alongside the sweet folk-pop of Only Child. Elsewhere, In Her Time imitates The Smiths in unlikely country mode, and is among the most immediately appealing songs here. The two instrumentals ?? Ramble and Tiara St. ?? are both full-sounding and constrained, and represent another couple of truly captivating moments on an album with no shortage. With only one real misfire ?? the potentially sanctimonious Aria's Soul is a bit much ?? Horse Stories have come up with a stunningly panoramic and considered debut album, with a fair potential for crossover success.

Stein Haukland
CWAS #11 - Autumn 2002

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