As gentle as Tom Cooney sounds - and Futureproof wouldn’t, sonically at least, pull the skin off a rice pudding – it would be a mistake for the musical sorting hat to put him in what the English might call the bedwetter house (the introspective, moon-eyed and oh-so-easily bruised young chaps who feel so much more), or what around these parts we might call the mung-and-bong house (surfing/dope smoking/hairy blokes who think playing acoustically makes them folk singers).
Perhaps his first argument against such misallocation might come with the title track of this, his third album. It begins in uneasy peace with a sad-eyed voice, slow moving guitar and even more sedate low drum, marking out elements of discontent. Then it escalates into agitation with overtly passive/aggressive guitar, before stepping away from confrontation without quite giving up that nagging dissatisfaction.
You won’t find anything that ambiguous on a Jack Johnson album!
But I’d be inclined to take something like Sinking Feeling for his defence. Even though there isn’t that immediate layer of discomfort you get in Futureproof, and Cooney’s very efficient finger-picking makes for a smooth folk-ish ride, there’s some pointed nark in the lyrics and definite tension in the strings part.
The play between peace and pricking of the skin in Sinking Feeling is subtler than in the title track, but it also consistent with the way Cooney works across this record.
In songs such as Little By Little and The Void, he sets one side against the other without giving either a complete upper hand. In Shifting Backwards and River & Bridge he approaches the songs like a more focused David Crosby merged with a less spectral Linda Perhacs: dreamy but slightly bent, retaining the option to float but staying still.
While not prone to the flights of fancy, or to be fair, the depths of gorgeousness of someone like Sufjan Stevens, Cooney has more at play than the initial assumption of gentle-is-as-gentle-does songs. If you played this around a bonfire on a Byron Beach someone in the group might get a little twitchy without really being able to say why.
Wish there were more of it around.