Serendipitous fortune has been the basis of many a beautiful musical friendship. Immigrant Union are the fruit of a chance encounter in 2004 between former Dandy Warhol drummer Brent DeBoer and singer Bob Harrow, ex of Lazy Sons, in a bar while both were touring with their then bands. The meeting led to a beer fuelled all night jam session which, after the spontaneous trip to the country that followed evolved slowly over the years into fully formed songs. The two added keyboardist Peter Lubulwa to solidify their sound and latterly have been joined by Ben Street and Paddy McGrath-Lester, as well as at various points Courtney Barnett and her Barnetts. The journey culminated in their self titled 2012 debut, a hidden treasure awash with alt-country leanings.
This their second outing marks a subtle but definite change of direction, or at least a more purposeful walk towards the psych-folk only hinted at previously. With melodies that wouldn’t be out of place floating on the breeze at Woodstock and vocal stylings borrowed from early Simon and Garfunkel, the delivery is an altogether more whimsical affair. Still, however, heavy on the personal disclosures and emotional catharsism, it gives the impression they've attacked it with an earnest Neil Young vibe that doesn’t really come to fruition; this is a collection of tracks that could be accused of taking itself a little too seriously.
Beginning with furtive, delicate melody and a raw unpolished vocal in the shape of Shameless, we get a hint of the talent of Lubulwa that intertwines subtly in the background. a tinkling of keys that weaves just below the surface of the not unimpressive fingerboard action. The guitars come into their own on first single from this album I Can’t Return, a surprisingly uptempo but heartwrenching story of infidelity that is filled with jawdroppingly exquisite bluegrass plectrum plucking.
For the most part, it’s lacking in levity, but that’s no criticism. Written in the aftermath of a relationship breakdown, at times it’s cloying and claustrophobic, leaving you with the taste of bitterness in your mouth and the burn of bourbon in the throat, particurly on Lake Mokoan. The singular nod toward the Dandy Warhol’s connection, and the LP’s only lighter moment comes on War is Peace, a stomping, perfectly harmonised love song to America; albeit an America of our imagination, before Bush II came along, before we head of such things as drones and collaterol damage.
Musically, Anyway is faultess with richly talented players complemented by t a vintage Neve mixing desk and 1950s microphones. Unfortunately, it’s slightly let down by reedy vocals that take away from its otherwise fullness. It's not that Harrow and the various other members on vocal duties have bad voices, just a little empty and too high up in the mix resulting in a sound that sits a little uneasily in the ears. The lyrics are delivered on occasion with too contrived a sense of their own auteurship that doesn’t quite hit the mark; while good, they’re not quite that
good. On their first album, Immigrant Union cultivated a dark but warm and rich modern country sound with singing to match, but on this jaunt there’s a mismatch; vocals too folky for the music and the music too country for the vocals. There’s a sneak peek of what might have been on last track The End Has Come, in which the sound is fleshed out with what I can only assume is Courtney Barnett sharing the mic. It’s a perfect finisher, warm and fuzzy guitar tones enveloping richer, fuller singing that almosts makes you forget the failings of the rest of it.
Despite it’s forray into a newer sound, Anyway isn’t breaking any boundaries and isn’t going to change anyone's life, but for the most part it’s a well realised collection of country tinged folk that’s only fault is that it provides the listener with a glimpse of just how amazing it could have been.
Words - Angi Strafford