Mojave one

Neil Halstead keeps his top tunes


NEIL

HALSTEAD at the Rivoli (332

Queen West), Friday (February 15).

$12.50. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN


the conventional assumption says solo albums from the leaders of successful groups are frightful dumping grounds for songs the band didn’t want. But that doesn’t exactly hold for Neil Halstead’s Sleeping On Roads.There are no half-baked ideas, Jaggeresque celebrity sing-alongs or ill-advised excursions into hiphop on the debut by the vocalist of Mojave 3. In fact, the Cornwall, England-based singer/songwriter seems to have held back some of his best songs from the rest of his band.

Sleeping On Roads strips Mojave 3’s woozy country psychedelia down to its barest essentials. Largely acoustic and with only minimal instrumentation, the record ditches Mojave’s thick wall of sound for a sparse, delicately picked quality, and Halstead turns in a charming impersonation of a slightly cheerier Nick Drake.

It’s not a massive stretch from Halstead’s day job, in part because the songs were actually written for Mojave 3.

“About the time Mojave were doing our last record, I started doing some of my own songs,” Halstead explains from Cornwall. “I happened to be sleeping in the studio at the time, so I’d wander down in the middle of the night and do a couple of my own songs. “Can’t fucking sleep, might as well record.’

“They were just songs that didn’t fit in with the rest of the mood of the album. We toyed with the idea of recording them anyway, but I think they would have turned out quite differently.

“It was an interesting experience being totally in control. Sometimes it’s quite daunting, and you need someone to say, “Actually, that’s a bit crap, mate’ or else you can go on forever.

“It is less stressful than having seven people trying to decide something. You always reach an agreement, but it’s usually a relentless slog, and someone ends up with hurt feelings. There was none of that this time.”

Warm and understated and only rarely crawling above a whisper, Sleeping On Roads is tailor-made for midwinter hibernation. The question is whether, amidst the bellowing of clowns like Creed, Staind and Nickelback, there is a genuine audience for this kind of music now.

It’s something Halstead will find out when he heads out with just an acoustic guitar for support on a series of solo live dates. He plays the Rivoli Friday (February 15).

“People want me to be part of the whole “new acoustic’ movement. That’s a whole load of bollocks. Acoustic music’s been around for years, and there’s always been an audience for that. It’s just a case of getting it heard.

“My premise was to combine traditional folk with a sort of hypnotic feel and massive production. We were thinking of a cross between Bert Jansch and Spiritualized. It’s not a traditional folk record because I don’t have that grounding. When I was 16 I was listening to Jesus & Mary Chain and Dinosaur Jr.

“This is about as close to a folk record as I can get.” mattg@nowtoronto.com

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