There doesn’t seem to be any subject matter that John Coinman won’t tackle in his songs. In many ways that is a dangerous game to be playing with several of the events depicted in the songs on this album still incredibly raw wounds, but the fact is he tackles the subjects with such incredible taste and sensitivity that they come out as tributes to the people caught up in those horrific situations
John Coinman has a warm vocal style that on occasions reminds me of artists such as, oddly, the late British singer/songwriter Gerry Rafferty or even Canadian, Bruce Cockburn! There is a confidence and an immense flexibility in his voice that completely defines all of the subject matter and the often saturating emotion in every song. He seems to move closer to a rootsy rock sensibility but with more than a nod to country music whilst his beautifully written songs take the listener through a whole gamut of emotions and with a sound that varies from light and easy to a powerful dynamism that is both dense and dramatic.
Whilst the songs and vocals are excellent on many albums, it is not as unusual as it perhaps should be to find the supporting musicians playing the notes rather than equaling the intensity of the former and helping to lift an album to notable rather than merely o.k. That is most definitely not the case on this excellent recording and neither should it be with the quality of performers supporting John Coinman. On this often riveting album John is the lead vocalist and also plays guitar and harmonica, Blair Forward is on bass, Larry Cobb, drums and harmony vocals, Neil Harrt on pedal steel, Peter McLaughlin, acoustic guitar and harmony vocals. Teddy Morgan, who also co-produced with Coinman, is on electric and acoustic guitars and harmony vocals with Brandy Zdan adding her beautiful vocal harmonies to four of the songs. That lineup is evidence of the esteem in which Coinman is held within the music business, as he should be with the challenges that some of his songs present in terms of drama, variety and the intense depth of feeling. Morgan, Cobb and Coinman are also part of ‘Modern West’ with actor Kevin Costner so perhaps their versatility shouldn’t be surprising. The evocative arrangements are so good that If you took the atmospheric vocals away from this recording, not that anyone would wish to, you would still have some great music.
The varied musical styles and powerful lyrics are all tied together by John’s warm vocals to such a degree that the lovely flow of the album is never interrupted. There is even one song Turn The Page, on which the vocal is reminiscent (at least to me) of Kurt Wallinger (World Party,) in fact the song has that highly individual indie sound with a nice chugging bass and guitar and is an excellent analogy for enjoying the moment. On Sky Full Of You the instrumentation is as dramatic as the song, which rises and falls with that sense of drama that includes Eagles like harmonies and a powerful electric guitar sound on an excellent love song. It is in the middle of this album that we are faced with three tales of disaster, two recent and one from the past. On Oklahoma City there are low jangling guitars and thudding bass on a powerful, harrowing tale of the horror of 1995 in Oklahoma City that projects on to the horrors that are happening in so many places around the world. Fairly obviously there is a sense of great drama but it is done respectfully and without offering any judgment, or hope. Five Minutes From America is another song that has an appealing chugging sound and one that again tells of a disaster, this time the flooding of New Orleans, told from the hopelessness of a personal perspective. The third song in a row that tells of an American tragedy is The Angels Came Down, this one an evocative tale of the horror of the consequences of the civil war. The repetitive guitar deepens the heartrending atmosphere as does the weeping steel guitar.
There are upbeat up tempo songs mixed with some downbeat tales on this incredibly varied album of darkness and light that in many ways echoes life. Great albums should consist of both entertaining and thought provoking songs to suit all moods and needs, something that only a few achieve. This one certainly does!