Nothing Better Than A Journey To You (Spunk/Caroline)
Somewhere between bucolic optimist soaking up the smell, sound and general earthiness of the natural world, and intense type roaming his interior landscape like its wholly unmapped territory, Jesse Madigan certainly qualifies as a man immersed in “the feels”.
Song titles on this debut (technically a reworking as he re-recorded elements of his homemade original with the persuasively sensitive Greg Walker producing) mention the seasons and skies, the tactile and the ephemeral; and the sounds are both simplified to voice and guitar and, at times, embellished with a romantic’s ear for the pretty, but almost always with a light screen of atmosphere, like a thin Georgette overlay.
As you can guess, Madigan (who hails from a town rarely described as soft, Newcastle, north of Sydney), is gentle in the main, hushed mostly, but thankfully not too introverted, not mumbling into his shoulder and wishing for oblivion.
It means sonically he can come across as a kind of Hunter Valley Bon Iver, without the soaring falsetto but with the airy moodsetting upper register. As in Ta Ville Est Vide Sans Toi, where the air and a distant backing voice hangs like a ghostly chill around him and the piano, or, with strings riding in on the back of an acoustic wave to give it a kind of Robert Kirby-arranged touch, Winter, In Dreams.
However, the difference with Madigan is he isn’t coming from the deep darkness which had enveloped Justin Vernon: the drifting clouds of the opening to Under A Summer Night’s Sky briefly open to let the bright sun in, January In Spring likewise pulling back from the shadows and giving it a bit of Coldplay buoyancy by the end.
And the error of staying too long with that Vernon comparison is emphasised by the yacht rock gentle groove of Salt, which straddles both Seals & Croft and George Benson (no, really) or the more pressing acoustic flow of Spring that reminds you that Boy & Bear left a mark on more than a few of their countrymen.
It’s possible the smartest decision Madigan made in reworking this album was enlisting the help of Greg Walker, whose own (now gone?) outfit Machine Translations worked in some similar areas, though with an edge of unpredictability not really seen here.
Walker’s production works to highlight the humanity of these songs, and to soften the touch of relatively bland lyrics. He’s almost made a virtue of those actually by blurring the voice just enough to bring an element of ambiguity which may not stand up to close scrutiny.
Which is not to damn album or writer for this is an album that says there’s certainly scope for Madigan to grow.