There aren’t many famous bands from Thornaby-on-Tees but Cattle and Cane has the potential at least to do for the area what Steve McClaren did for nearby Middlesbrough FC in those heady days before he became better known, elsewhere, as the wally with the brolly.
Cattle and Cane is siblings Joe and Helen Hammill with various family members and friends, including brother Fran, who is the third part of the harmonies mix. Their first album, ‘Home,’ was something of a melange of pop, folk and acoustic styles, notable for strong melodies on all the tracks, slow-burning ballads and soaring harmonies. Influenced as they are by 1960s and 1970s music, from the Beatles to Fleetwood Mac and Joni Mitchell that is perhaps no surprise.
The first thing you notice on ‘Mirrors’ is that more of the vocal responsibility is taken by Helen Hammill, seemingly as some songs suit her voice better. Two tracks have been released as singles so far: ‘Make your Vision’ and ‘7 Hours.’ The former is representative of a shift into outright pop territory yet with a serious theme, about not judging a book by its cover. There are hints of retired Sheffield dance-pop duo Moloko in the song (and Helen even has the look of Róisín Murphy) while vocally it could be Debbie Harry at the mic. There’s a strong hook, subtle synths and a pulsing bass.
‘Make your Vision’ lays down at least a partial template for the remainder of the album. There’s a poppy feel here and there but with thoughtful lyrics and skilful, restrained musicianship throughout.
The early part of opener ‘Love on Your Hands’ could be a wedding reception-closing dance song to smooch to, until you listen to the words, in which love on your hands might be blood on your hands, then it builds towards a trademark Cattle and Cane ending. The more upbeat, guitar-led ‘7 Hours’ could, paradoxically, be about waiting for a lifesaving operation, or the last hours on Death Row.
‘Fool for you,’ identified as the next single, sounds like it might be the UK’s Eurovision entry this year with a Euro-pop arrangement, a catchy riff and lots of oh-oh-ohs and la-la-lahs. Whether or not that’s a good thing is left to the discretion of the listener but it wouldn’t get nul points. In (deliberate?) contrast, ‘Dealing with the Devil,’ on which Joe takes lead vocal, is a gloomy ballad, enlivened by the first middle eight on the album and a rising, harmonised, synth-filled and almost anthem-like finale that will surely go down well, live.
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‘Time to get it over with’ is again guitar-led and in a different era could have been the product of an early Simon & Garfunkel while ‘Paper Man’ showcases some sumptuous acoustic guitar playing.
‘Saviour’ is another up-tempo track with surprisingly, a dance-y drum/bass beat reminiscent of Arcade Fire in their The Suburbs and Reflektor incarnations.
The album wraps up with ‘I’ve been Silent,’ possibly the most complete track on the album, a delightfully building ballad embellished by the same delicate background synth effects popularised by Highasakite on Camp Echo, followed by ‘Tonight we Dance (Cleveland Hills)’ a rite of passage soliloquy that is the perfect vehicle for the beautiful combination of Joe and Helen’s voices.
‘Mirrors’ is at the same time easy to listen to and demanding folk/pop which invites a second hearing, and a third… and could only be improved by stronger hooks. It isn’t going to grab the attention of Perez Hilton but it’s what John and Kayleigh will be listening to on Forever FM as they drive home from work in the nth series of Car Share. Guaranteed.
‘Mirrors‘ will be released on Friday 28th April on Quiet Crown Recordings.
Headline Spring UK tour:
15th April Stockton – Stockton Calling
2nd May Liverpool – Buyers Club
3rd May Glasgow – King Tuts
4th May Gateshead – Sage 2
5th May Birmingham – The Flapper
6th May Leeds – The Wardrobe
7th May Masham – Town Hall
9th May Manchester – Gullivers
10th May Nottingham – Bodega
11th May London – Camden Assembly
12th May Bristol – Louisiana
13th May Cardiff – Clwb Ifor Bach