Tom McRae

All Maps Welcome

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British mopester Tom McRae has done less than many of his contemporaries to deserve it, but critics have roundly relegated him to the slagheap of emotionally naked, sensitive acts that have emerged in Coldplay's wake -- Travis, Keane, Aqualung, and the like. While it's true that the ripple of vulnerability informing his songs runs deep, it also must be conceded, especially after a listen to All Maps Welcome, his meditative third disc, that McRae is an artist who follows his own instincts. With soaring melodies and wistful words the sound of the hour, McRae instills resonance in his own dark fumblings by way of whispers (check the pretty "Still Lost"), understated guitar work, and a convincing, shifting moodiness. When he proposes, on "How the West Was Won," "Light me a smoke/I'll tell you a story/Of how the west was won," there's a ghostliness in his high voice that compels a listener to settle in. Later, the bleakness of "Strangest Land" invites comparisons with Gary Jules. By disc's end, McRae seems more a disciple of Elliott Smith than of his contemporary countrymen; his sound requires no map, only a willingness to drop the cheerful act and admit there's substance in exploring what stings.

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