Wow, this one really slipped under the radar. I'd barely finished reading Adam Gnade's recently released novella 'The Growling Mouth' when the opportunity to review An Hour Of Music with Adam Gnade and Megan Michelle fell into my lap. Until I saw that it was available to review, I had no idea this record even existed – no time to anticipate, speculate or get excited. Humble and understated it arrived into the world with no fanfare and here it is. It's out now. No, really.
This quiet birthing is incredibly befitting to the style of Adam Gnade – a writer and musician who meticulously crafts incredibly moving stories of the subtle nuances of existing over a series of novellas, novels and albums full of talking songs. His side of this split album sees him continue this ever-tangling narrative web through the feeling of the sounds he creates just as much as the words wrapped inside them.
All songs recorded live on acoustic instruments with the accompaniment of tape hiss and farmhouse ambience, melting into noise segues akin to sound experiments from Neutral Milk Hotel's pre-album tapes. 'We Never Killed The Blues' is a perfect statement of intent for Gnade's songs on this record; blues-infused slide guitar is the platform for verses that in places sound like the perfect distillation of Jack Kerouac and Ernest Hemingway coming out of the mouth of Jack White (maybe even a little bit of The Mountain Goats thrown in for good measure). This is a man telling you stories of life that might otherwise pass you by and he does everything in his power to make you believe that they're the most important stories in the world.
Gnade himself says of this record that he hopes "people hear this record and feel like they're driving in the middle of the night through a place they've never been" and it certainly has that feeling. The interludes between songs act as radio interference like a phantom signal that hits you every few miles, the field recordings of weather add to this ever-changing, not to mention the stories within the songs themselves.
Songs that are familiar to existing fans of Gnade are revisited and feel like completely new stories "Frances wants to buy a farmhouse in Kansas… she says we'll all live together and work the land" he says with a giddy excitement. The autobiographical nature of the songs shines through and knowing that this was recorded on a farmhouse in Kansas brings it from idealistic fantasy into a fully realised ambition.
The other side to this split is Megan Michelle – a relative unknown who may never have released a thing if it wasn't for a combination of Gnade's encouragement mixed with the torturous monotony of bedrest due to illness. The urgent motion and pace of the Gnade side is completely slowed down to an almost eerie calm with Michelle's brilliantly controlled sweet, whispering voice.
Arriving somewhere between Seven Swans era Sufjan Stevens and Either/Or era Elliott Smith she offers up a handful of restrained lo-fi folk songs which feel in places like very private confessions; 'Hymn of Venus' being a five minute conversation that feels intrusive to listen to and 'Slow' feeling like an erratic cycle of thoughts wrapped in perfect harmonies. This is a very honest and well-crafted effort, but at the same time it's new and rough around the edges. I'd be very interested to hear an ongoing development in Michelle's writing style and can only hope that this won't be the only release we hear from her.