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Neil Halstead - Oh! Mighty Engine

Neil Halstead, Oh! Mighty Engine

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

NEIL Halstead is often hailed as one of Britain’s best kept singer-songwriter secrets. Formerly part of Slowdive and Mojave 3, he’s also an accomplished solo artist in his own right, specialising in twilight folk.

For his latest album, Oh! Mighty Engine, he has been signed to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records label and immediately makes himself at home. The album – his first since Sleeping On Roads six years ago – is a remarkably laidback listen that gives rise to quite a few delights.

Lead single Queen Bee, for instance, is a delicious slice of warm twilight folk that channels the feel-good vibe of Johnson, as well as the classic songwriting sensibilities of Simon & Garfunkel. It’s a lush listen, beautifully underscored by some brilliant acoustic guitar work. And, needless to say, it’s one of the finest tracks the album has to offer.

But there’s more to savour, too. Album opener and title track Oh! Mighty Engine is an excellent starting point – laidback, thought-provoking and capable of showcasing the best that the folk movement has to offer.

Halstead’s keen sense of humour is reflected in the lyrics of the touching Elevenses, the type of song that would certainly make a Zach Braff soundtrack, while Witless Or Wise is another whispered gem.

Paint A Face is similarly beautiful, albeit delivered with one of the album’s snappier back-beats, there’s some welcome flutes and keyboards on Always The Good, while the stabs of mandolin on A Gentle Heart embellish another beautifully composed record.

Final track, Baby I Grew You A Beard dusts off this particular album in equally satisfying fashion, to suggest that the claims about Halstead’s songwriting qualities aren’t at all misplaced.

True, the laidback, dusky feel of a lot of the songs may be a little too sedate for some tastes, but it’s an excellent chillout record that seems to have found the perfect environment in which to flourish as part of Jack Johnson’s ever-expanding musical empire.

Download picks: Elevenses, Witless Or Wise, Queen Bee, Paint A Face, A Gentle Heart

Track listing:

  1. Oh Mighty Engine
  2. Elevenses
  3. Little Twig
  4. Witless Or Wise
  5. Paint A Face
  6. Always The Good
  7. No Mercy For The Muse
  8. Sometimes For The Wheels
  9. Queen Bee
  10. Spinning For Spoonie
  11. Gentle Heart
  12. Baby I Grew You A Beard
  13. Finer Points Of Flying