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James William Hindle - s/t

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Artist: James William Hindle

Album: s/t

Label: Badman

Review date: Mar. 31, 2002

James William Hindle’s self-titled debut on San Fransisco’s Badman Recording Co. label is by now not a new record, but it is a record worth revisiting here, if for no other reason than it’s release last fall was met with much less attention that one might have hoped. On paper, perhaps, it’s a record easily pigeonholed by the cynic – the guy’s got three names, he’s from somewhere in Britain, he sings sad songs with some orchestral accompaniments – and I’ll be the first to admit that the formula isn’t the most novel. Syllables aside, it’s got Nick Drake written all over it, and that’s the name the few reviews I’ve read consistently seize upon.

The elements are similar, but it’s a somewhat strained comparison. Nobody, and you know I mean nobody, in the past thirty years has been able to conjure the same mystical, organically alchemic sound as Drake with just voice and an acoustic guitar, but despite all of the moments in which strings so beautifully augmented his magic (“Cello Song,” “River Man”) there are a sorry handful of songs on Drake’s first two records where he seems desperately trying to prevail in spite of accompaniment (“Poor Boy,” “One of These Things First”). Hindle is the reverse: a Pink Moon by this Brit would likely become tiresome by its midpoint, so instead this debut’s greatest asset is that it is a thoughtfully textured, meticulously crafted, and beautifully recorded project – a collaborative effort to the very last.

Opening on a slightly wary drum and rhythm-guitar line as a way of getting its feet wet, the lead track “Down and Able” is soon confidently scooped up by the kind of triumphantly gorgeous, blissfully straight-forward melody line that sounds simultaneously familiar and other-worldly. It’s so basic that you know you must have heard it in some other context before, yet it's so immediately affecting that you know you couldn’t have heard it quite this way. And in this manner, Hindle’s eight tracks play themselves thoughtfully out. “(Masks)” places Hindle’s confident voice behind gorgeous layers of swelling cello and violin, and the parts keep building gorgeously upon one another until percussion returns to provide stately foundation for the following track, “The List of You and Me”. Much of the record’s careful pacing communicates a thoughtfulness and precision that keeps it from becoming stale. Every note and harmony feels lovingly worked through, yet there is nothing clinical about it – the record conjures an image of a roomful of musicians performing their umpteenth take, playing it through again and again both to get it perfect, and because nothing outside the door quite beats what’s happening inside.

One can criticize the meagerness of an eight song “full-length”, but the real result is a proper album; one without a stinker (despite what you might suspect by the inclusion of a BeeGees cover) in its midst. Additionally, the eight tracks contain a rather surprising amount of diversity despite their consistency of elements: violins swoon classically on some tracks, but loosen their collars a bit for a Dirty Three-esque jam at the end (“Less of Me”).

Badman founder Dylan Magierek, who has shown his recording skill by making Mark Kozelek’s solo material ring somehow far fuller than one thought vocals, an acoustic guitar, and some AC/DC covers might possibly sound, can again take a deep bow here. It would be wonderful if everything Badman put out was both recorded by Magierek and accompanied by Nyree Watts’ photography, as much of their catalog, including the Hindle record, already is. If you’re not doing so already, I’d keep an eye on Badman’s upcoming releases, or gems like the Hindle record might sadly escape under the buzz radar.

By Nathan Hogan

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