Unremarkable – a word to strike fear into the heart of any artist. It implies mediocrity; equivalent to being told you’re in possession of a ‘nice personality’ by a potential suitor. Unfortunately for Joel Nicholson, a.k.a. Butcher The Bar, it neatly surmises much of his second long-player, For Each A Future Tethered, available now via Germany’s Morr Music. Sorry Joel.

Lets get this straight from the off, this is not a bad record by any stretch of the imagination. The Manchester-based Yorkshireman has a knack for melody akin to his hero Elliot Smith - indeed Smith’s influence seems to permeate throughout the record, not least on opener ‘Sign Your Name’ – and his prowess across a variety of instruments (Guitar, Banjo, Accordian) is to be admired. He also has a cracker of a song in recent summery single ‘Bobby’, the second track on For Each…

But then he seems to lose his way a little. ‘Cradle Song’, ‘Giant’ and ‘Alpha Street West’ fly by without incident, good songs but barely distinguishable from each other once in full-flow; ‘Silk Tilts’ is in desperate need of a jump-start, as is ‘X’ – well crafted but lacking any sort of emotional spark. When Nicholson holds back on the jaunty, looped drums and percussion – reminiscent of Jim Noir in places, bizarrely – and lets his smooth finger-picking come to prominence, songs such as the human-race baiting ‘Blood For The Breeze’ and the excellent ‘Cornered To The Cusp’ develop a welcome depth.

Album closer ‘Lullaby’ starts fairly innocuously but takes a thrillingly euphoric, brass-led turn mid-way through. Perhaps if one or two of the other tracks had been arranged with such maturity I’d be enthusing about what a great album this is, rather than a slightly better than average collection of songs, bookended by some potentially brilliant ones. It is, as a whole, too saccharine, desperately lacking light and shade. Nicholson’s penchant for a multi-tracked vocal, a la Smith, leaves him sounding a little emotionally flat, a feeling conveyed to the listener. I found myself pleading for a touch of gusto, for him to really attack a song. Perhaps it’s a confidence thing.

Nicholson is a mere 22-years-old and For Each A Future Tethered is very much the sound of an artist in development, though one still struggling to find his true voice. There’s obviously heaps of talent here but I fear all that time spent making music alone in his bedroom has warped his sense of how to connect. Maybe it’s time to bring someone else into the equation – a new producer, a collaborator – someone to bounce ideas off (perhaps he does this already, who knows?) and administer a bit of quality control. It wouldn’t hurt.

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