The success of Mumford and Sons has led to a slew of imitators jumping on the Folk/Bluegrass/Americana bandwagon with varying degrees of success. Our craving for all things bearded and rootsy is, apparently, insatiable - bands are trading guitars for banjos and donning waistcoats and breeches with frightening regularity in an attempt to 'authentically imitate' what has become the latest hipster craze.
Irish duo Hidden Highways interpretation of rootsy Americana is refreshingly different - their gorgeous, gospel-tinged debut album Old Hearts Reborn is a thing of considerable beauty and heralds their emergence as one of our brightest new talents. These gentle, acoustic based songs act as a wonderful showcase for the song-writing and vocal talents of Carol Anne McGowan and Tim V. Smyth. This is a record that glides by with a spectral grace, leaving a trail of ghosts and memories in its wake. Their brand of folky Americana is a beautifully conceived concoction of waltzing acoustic guitars, ethereal harmonies and hushed dynamics, sharing some common ground with bands like the Cowboy Junkies and Mazzy Star. McGowan and Smyth share lead vocals on all of these tracks - both are blessed with strong voices and when they sing together on tracks such as opener 'Empire Of Old', they combine to telling effect.
McGowan takes the lead vocal duties on 'The Western Line' and it's a stunning evocation of a time and place somewhere off in a distant past. They cover Townes Van Zandt's 'The Velvet Voices' and make it their own with a sympathetic and reverential rendition. Across these ten tracks, there are many moments of magic; 'Time To Go Back To Sea' and the bluesy sadness of 'Won't Be Going Home' are standouts but Old Hearts Reborn retains an air of dreamy, soulful beauty throughout, consistently strong from the opening chords to the last.
With Old Hearts Reborn, Hidden Highways have delivered one of the most strikingly lovely Irish debut albums in recent times, a haunting collection of songs of quiet power and tear-stained beauty.
Review by Paul Page | THREE POINT FIVE STARS