PATRICK WATSON – Wooden Arms (Peacefrog)

Patrick Watson was one the artists that I was alerted to by NME’s freebie CD of up and coming Canadian artists, and his ‘Close To Paradise’ was an excellent album. The follow-up has been a long time coming, and in that period not only has he scooped Canada’s equivalent to the Mercury Prize – the Polaris – but he has refined his sound to include an earthier element to the songs. ‘Fireweed’ builds gradually to a climax and before suddenly dropping away, and the odd percussion on ‘Tracy’s Waters’ – it sounds like tin cans being hit at random – gives an intriguing backdrop to the song. ‘Beijing’ is enhanced by orchestration from Nick Drake’s arranger Robert Kirby, but is basically led by a repetitive piano figure a la Philip Glass, and thumping drums which help to drive forward the lyrics about a bustling cityscape. The title track has more unusual percussion burbling under a lovely duet between Watson and a mysterious female singer, and ‘Hommage’ is a beautifully orchestrated instrumental. ‘Traveling Salesman’ utilises the fairground organ and cabaret stylings which he used on his previous album, and while in some hands this could be extremely irritating, Watson pulls it off by using them sparingly and always remembering to include the guitar and drums in there as well. ‘Big Bird In A Small Cage’ is another lovely male/female duet, with the piano and banjo backing giving the song a spacious feel, counter-pointing the claustrophobia of the lyric. ‘Down At The Beach’ is another instrumental, but this time there is no lush orchestration – just percussion and piano on a sparse, fragmented melody. The tender ‘Man Like You’ is just Watson on guitar and vocal, and works extremely well in the context of the album, with its laidback subtlety making the following ‘Where The Wild Things Are’ sound even more epic, with glockenspiel, pizzicato strings, and piano all thrown into the mix. ‘Machinery Of The Heavens’ is another up-tempo rocker, with more strange percussion effects, and a liberal helping of steel guitar. I realise that Patrick Watson can be something of an acquired taste, with his penchant for experimenting with his music, the odd percussion, and the way that the songs can swing from one genre to the next, but it does mean that it can stand repeated plays without becoming boring, so persevere and you will be rewarded.