Oisin Leech and Mark McCausland, the Irishmen who sing so beautifully together as The Lost Brothers, headed to the arid lands of Tucson, Arizona for their latest instalment of wonderfully crepuscular songs. The pair have a penchant for choosing a specific location for each of their recordings (including Liverpool, where they started off as a duo, Sheffield, Portland Oregon and Nashville) and often a particular producer, believing that it’s key to attaining the “magic.” For Halfway Towards A Healing they recorded in Dust and Stone Studios with owner Gabriel Sullivan and the legendary Howe Gelb overseeing the production and sure enough, some of the Giant Sand man’s sonic drizzle percolates throughout the album.
There’s no dramatic change in The Lostie’s sound. They’re still the perfect late night accompaniment, their harmonies excellent, the songs almost lullabies, a balm for the discontented and the lonely. They’ve often been compared to Simon & Garfunkel but at times here they approach the melancholic lyrical beauty of Leonard Cohen, the title song here being the premium example (while it also slouches along wonderfully with Gelb’s fingerprints all over it). More Than I Can Comprehend (co-written with Glen Hansard) is a lyrically stark portrait of a relationship blowing up and Songs Of Fire is despair writ large despite its incredibly nimble arrangement. For true melancholia however it would be hard to beat Summer Rain which rambles along wonderfully with Gelb’s idiosyncratic lounge piano allied to a lazy cowboy rhythm.
The opening songs, Echoes In The Wind and Where the Shadows Go, will satisfy those who hold to the Simon & Garfunkel comparison, the former in particular is suffused with Simon’s early style. Come Tomorrow, a song which canters along in comparison to its siblings recalls another sixties songwriter, in this case Tim Rose and his version of Morning Dew. Again Gelb seems to be in the background with gently twanged guitar and occasional sonic splutters making their mark. On working with Gelb Mark McCausland says, “He would pick us up in the morning and take us out into the desert. We’d walk for hours, then he’d drop us back at the studio. We’d go through songs with studio engineer Gabriel Sullivan, then Howe would meet us at the end of the day, listen to what we’d done and work on the tracks. All those trips into the desert were to get the environment into our system.” The Tucson topography looms large in the instrumental, Reigns Of Ruin, a gentle cantina styled strum and Gelb himself has a cameo appearance as he narrates the closing song, The Ballad Of The Lost Brother, a self help manual of sorts which sounds like the sort of thing Travis Henderson (from Paris, Texas) might have said were he a gonzoid Zen like musician from Tucson, an odd end to the album but a delight for any fans of Gelb.
Mark Twain said, “Comparison is the death of joy” but if one were forced to compare Halfway Towards A Healing against their earlier albums it’s tempting to say that this is their best yet.