I don’t know if the pop music market is overcrowded with the modern male singer-songwriter type (James Blunt et al) but, if there’s room for one more, then Tristan Mackay’s impressively accomplished debut album should put him in the frame for some serious radio attention. In a classic case of many years’ hard graft paving the way for instant success, Tristan has spent a lot of time busking – mostly in Leeds, where he was a student – and certainly an awful lot more time honing his guitar playing. He built up something of a following in Leeds, but it was his myspace site that caught the attention of producer Martin Levan, who obviously felt that here was someone he could do business with. You can hear on this album that Tristan Mackay was already a complete one-man package before he got to the studio: he has a bunch of neat, sensitive love songs which he sings in a voice that has a little husky soul to it, and he plays guitar in an ear catching manner, reminiscent of some obvious heroes. Eric Clapton in hit song mode (Beautiful Tonight, say) certainly comes to mind as you hear Tristan bend some blues-y notes.
In the studio this core package has been set, like a gemstone, in some very tasteful arrangements. The light funk of Lonely All By Myself features some spiky Hammond organ from Paul Carrack and cool backing vocals from Carol Kenyon and Mae McKeena (this boy’s got some good musical mates already!) whilst Who We Are, one of several short snippets in between more complete songs, keeps the focus on Tristan’s voice at its most soulful. There’s a great blues guitar break on Wherever You Lay Your Head, really relaxed and unhurried, and I’ve certainly enjoyed this side of his music the most. However, there’s definitely an eye on some serious commercial success here; several songs have a decidedly radio friendly air about them, and the big pitch comes with Last Love, curiously mid-70s in atmosphere with its lush string arrangement (think Clifford T Ward – seriously!) and sounding like a pretty-much-guaranteed hit. Between the voice, the songs and the guitar playing this man covers a lot of bases and it could well be that an awful lot of people come to love Tristan Mackay.
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