The world inhabited by Tommy Hale’s songs seems a much brighter place these days. Not that it was ever overly morbid or dark, but his previous album, Far From Grace did seemed to be peopled by some fairly lost souls; yes Uncle Jim, I’m talking about you. Stolen Conversations, Three Chords and the Truth, despite the seemingly heavy burden of the title is a much more positive and breezier affair, though without losing the wonderful character studies that flavour his music. It’s just that now that the subject matter is just as personal but somehow more personable and even the more downbeat and reflective lyrical processes seem to be balanced by jaunty upbeat music and vice versa.
It takes an artist assured enough with his own abilities to kick an album off with not one but two covers. I’ll Be Around, penned by and a tribute to his UK musical brethren, The Snakes, whose members appear peppered through out the album, features here as a result of the great song swap of 2007 after which they added the brilliant Libertine to their set, an obvious single and a song that a Whiskeytown era Ryan Adams would probably have killed for.
The second cover comes in the much less obvious form of Just Like Heaven, the spin being that the main riff is transposed for a the trumpet; seeing the Cure rendered into a Mariachi rock delivery is something as brave and experimental as it is brilliantly executed.
As always, Tommy Hale seems to walk that fine, line between out and out rock and roll and a much more considered alt-country vibe, the result being a wonderful weave of upbeat urgency as shown on Belmont and Cecille and the minimal beauty of Hey Marlene. And if Punk Song 68 shows that he can kick out the jams with the best of them, Silver Clouds shows that he doesn’t have to.
It’s an album that doesn’t fall easily into any one genre but could be seen as a musical road trip that goes from Detroit to Nashville stopping off in Alexis Corners’ London blues scene, sleazy after hours Havana, swing door slamming country, tongue in cheek gospel and a big helping of straight up rock and roll. Now, who wouldn’t buy a ticket for that journey?