Being a Yorkshire man of Irish and Polish descent is as good a reason as any for anyone to get into Americana and for Jason McNiff its produced results with his 2003 album, Nobody’s Son, voted Americana UK album of the year while April Cruel was nominated in the category of best alt-country album at the US Independent Music Awards in 2011. God Knows Why We Dream is his sixth release and his first with current band The Lone Malones who feature Polish fiddler and accordionist, Basia Bartz along with Neil Marsh of Ahab on drums and John Nicholls on bass and production duties.
McNiff sings with a whisper in his throat, a voice that has in the past occasioned comparisons to Dylan circa the Basement Tapes but here his light tenor comes across as more vulnerable, straining at times to keep up with the deft playing and arrangements. If one were to make a comparison to Dylan and The band it would be the spare but sprightly Planet Waves that you would reach for with McNiff’s lyrics the primary pointer as opposed to his singing.
The album opens with the wistful The Picture, Mcniff’s voice and guitar picking to the fore before the band weigh in and the song picks up some steam with Bartz’s fiddle adding a fine counterpoint to the gently swelling guitars. Throughout the album there’s a fine balance between country and folk with some hints of rock when the guitars break through especially on A Different Word which also features a haunting cornet played by Dan Kent. The scrabbled guitar flurries add a dark air to this plaintive love song while the coda features a solo that reaches to the heavens reflecting McNiff’s words “Looking at the stars tonight, there’s something strange, the billion and one stars, they don’t spell out her name, anymore” Brockdish wanders into Neil Young Stray Gators territory with its stumblebum guitars and prickly fiddle while Heart Of A Poet breezes along with gypsy fiddle and a galloping rhythm. While McNiff can do confessional such as his paean to L. Cohen on Thanks Leonard he’s able to offer the flowing Shy Truth and Before I Lose You, crammed full with rippling guitars and soaring fiddle that has a whiff of Mike Scott’s Waterboys about it (along with a sly reference to The Hobbit) . However the album’s crowning glory is the almost symphonic Game Over with Bartz’s fiddle swelling as McNiff takes to piano for a haunting ballad that has the pathos of Alex Chilton allied to the chilly dissections of mid seventies John Cale. A magnificent song.