Label: Unsigned Release date: Out Now Link: Myspace Buy: Amazon While it’s great to be living in an age of acts like Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling, and Stornoway all getting their share of representation in mainstream radio playlists (alongside regulation representatives of Cowell’s legions of darkness, natch) we’ve also got a depressingly predictable batch of second-rate imitators and trend junkies. Don’t get me wrong: I’m ecstatic that we can all finally peel off our skinny jeans and slip into faded waistcoats and fetching neckties, but it takes more than just a vaguely folksy-sounding stringed instrument to make decent alt-country. So when I hear what I believe to be a mandolin at the start of this six track release from Preston-based Changing Horses, my prejudices are encouraging me to be wary. And when I read on their Myspace page that they’ve been described as ‘England’s answer to the White Stripes’, I’ve got to say I’m wondering exactly how long it will take me to run to those hills I’ve heard so much about, and what the most appropriate footwear would be for the terrain. Thankfully, they are so much more interesting than the White Stripes. In actual fact, Changing Horses are pretty excellent, really. After my initial mistrust, the mandolin and I are getting on pretty well within about ten seconds of opener ‘Cut All Strings’, and the song grows into a pleasing blend of Stagecoach’s grunge-folk and Arcade Fire’s soaring stadium indie. Unfortunately, second track ‘Let’s Go Dancing’ has a whiff of the Mika about it that is impossible to ignore and leaves me feeling a little dirty and ashamed (not in a good way, in case you were wondering), but luckily ‘One Million Screaming Angels’ cleans that taste from my mouth with gorgeously understated guitar, subtle double bass, intertwining violins and nice lad-lass vocals. Just to show you they can rock when they feel like it, Changing Horses pick up the tempo with the barn-stomping ‘I Don’t Need It’, and there’s even a slight Hope of the States vibe in the urgency behind ‘Tom Brown’. Lead singer Ric Birtill’s voice is particularly suited to this kind of fast paced vocal delivery, and the fragility suggested by his wavering falsetto is made all the more special by a confidently strident chest voice, a contrast that is used to great effect throughout this record. Closer ‘Till Death’ allows the band to showcase its, ahem, sensitive side, in a manner of speaking. The darkly humorous lyrics describe the musings of someone almost on the point of murdering his other half out of frustration (“Sometimes I leave a radio by the bathtub/In the hope that tragedy becomes good luck“), sung over a gently plucked guitar line reminiscent of some of Richard Thompson’s better days. My main problem with this record, though, is the brevity of the songs. The longest is 3.36 and the rest significantly shorter, but perhaps if they were extended they’d lose some of the charming immediacy that makes this such a pleasure to listen to. If they can carry on toeing the line between accessibility and intelligence in their music, Changing Horses could accomplish great things. Photobucket Eddie Slovik