Harvest Ministers

A Feeling Mission

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Far more influenced by Hank Williams than Harvey Williams, Dublin's Harvest Ministers were always the odd band out on Sarah Records: their sophisticated brand of folk and country-inflected acoustic pop, featuring a full-time violinist and a keyboardist who doubled on saxophone and accordion, was an awkward fit with the C-86 -inspired twee popsters. (The likes of Prefab Sprout or Deacon Blue are closer to the mark.) Still, the delicacy of the songs on 1995's A Feeling Mission, the group's second album (their first after leaving Sarah, which was in the midst of shuttering), shares some philosophical underpinnings with the likes of Trembling Blue Stars despite the stylistic differences in execution, as do the frail, hushed vocals of songwriter Will Merriman and second vocalist Maeve Roche. Indeed, Roche's diaphanous, breathy lead vocals on the dreamy "Temple to Love" will sound immediately familiar to fans of TBS' Annemari Davies, and the skeletal acoustic guitar and voice arrangement of the spiky "Dealing with a Kid" has the barebones D.I.Y. feel of several of the Harvest Ministers' former labelmates. It's just that those songs are surrounded by comparatively lush country-pop tunes like the opening "That Won't Wash" and mature, piano-based ballads like the tender "A Secret Way." If Sarah Records had lasted just a year or two longer, the Harvest Ministers could have been pitched to America as the label's entry into the burgeoning alt-country sweepstakes. Instead, A Feeling Mission made almost no noise on this side of the Atlantic, despite being the group's first U.S. release thanks to Setanta's distribution deal with Bar/None Records. [Note: The U.S. edition of A Feeling Mission contains a hidden bonus track, a lovely solo Merriman ballad called "Out of Costume."]

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