If Thom Yorke lost the clever bits and became a straightforward, acoustic guitar-strumming troubadour, he might put out something like The Alphabet of Hurricanes. Tom McRae, whose voice and downcast demeanor both bear some similarities to those of Mr. Radiohead, has been honing his craft long enough to have worked out all the kinks by this point, and his fifth album achieves just the right balance of strong, simple melodies and subtle, idiosyncratic production touches. McRae isn't one of those singer/songwriters who feels the need to tell the world "Hey, I can rock just hard as those guys with the Les Pauls and Fender Twins when I put my mind to it," so there are no anomalous breaks in the nocturnal mood of the album; he's a folkie at heart and he knows it, that's part of what makes his music work as well as it does. There are a couple of moments here where he ups the energy level a bit, by either getting into a moderately bluesy groove ("Me & Stetson") or slowly building the dynamics of "Please" to epic size with chanting and drumming from what sounds like it could be a high school marching band. For the most part, though, the songs are spilled out softly in McRae's high, honey-coated voice, and are centered around humble-but-plaintive acoustic guitar and piano patterns. This proves to be just the right mode for a guy whose worldview is rather less than cheery -- he intones "Your love is a cold, cold place, my dear" on "Summer of John Wayne," and matter of factly observes "I'm walking hand in hand with my own ghost" on "I Still Love You" over a spare ukulele accompaniment while an appropriately spectral sonic shadow hangs overhead. But for as much as he expertly frames his discontent, he never wallows in it, and knowing the difference is one of the things that puts McRae toward the front of the current line of U.K. strum-and-croon types.
AllMusic Review by James Allen