Vox. It’s the most elemental of instruments. Before we were plucking strings or honking horns, we were singing. Which is probably why a striking voice still has such a capacity for captivation. And Stuart A. Staples, lead singer of Tindersticks, here solo for the second time, has one hell of an arresting voice. The Gorton’s Fisherman look-a-like on the cover of Leaving Songs is a perfect image: Staples has the pipes of a salty seafarer telling tales of toil.
That vox is immediately imminent on opener “Goodbye to Old Friends.” Its smoky, gravelly timbre calls to mind Nick Cave or Kurt Wagner. The surrounding sound of Leaving Songs often sounds like Wagner’s band Lambchop, appropriate since Staples recorded the album in Nashville with Lambchop engineer Mark Nevers. “Goodbye” and later track “That Leaving Feeling,” a duet with Llasa de Sela, are slow, shuffling builders that add piano, drums, horns and strings as they progress.
Nothing much on Leaving Songs rises above a whisper. “Dance With an Old Man” is almost all a cappella, with just the slightest brushes of guitar. “Which Way the Wind” is a Leonard Cohen-like narrative of fleeing love. And another duet, “This Road Is Long” with Maria Mckee, mines Nancy Sinatra/Lee Hazelwood territory.
After a while, though, all of this slow, sad stuff starts to sound the same. Too march dark mysteriousness means that that dark mysterious isn’t so mysterious on the fourth or fifth go round. Only “Which Way the Wind” gets even a little funky, with burbling, jumpy organ chords over which Staples’s rich baritone scats about trying to stay on the high and narrow.
Tindersticks fans will find very familiar, likable material on Leaving Songs. After that, any fan of the haunting voice, from Scott Walker to Chan Marshall, will fall into the album’s spell as well.
“That Leaving Feeling” video