Album: Michael J Sheehy

Ill Gotten Gains, Beggars Banquet
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The Independent Culture

Building further on the air of enchanted fatalism that characterised last year's début album, Sweet Blue Gene, London-Irish songwriter Michael J Sheehy taps into a rich vein of emotional brutality on Ill Gotten Gains. His aching tenor is as clear and lonely as ever, and the productions (by Dimitri Tikovoi) have, if anything, an even greater respect for atmospheric purity, but the smooth cordiality of the settings is deceptive. Sheehy's songs are frequently nasty little pieces, many built on bitter, cynical attitudes, which one presumes are not his own. There's his hurtful demystification of an unwanted son informed he's just one of many wild oats conceived in a toilet, then dismissed with a cruel "Now go out and do the best that you can". There's his blunt advice to adulterers: "If you're not caught at the scene of the crime/ Then don't confess 'cause it's a waste of time." There's the boxer who takes a dive and is immediately crippled by eternal shame. There's even a beguiling call to suicide, "Black Hole is Waiting", set to the rhythm and mood of Dr John's "Gris Gris". All are sung tenderly, as if hymns – as, too, is his cover of "Mystery Train" – and subtly swathed in layers of twinkling guitar, soulful organ, Fender Rhodes and pallid strings, with the occasional rumbling Tom Waits rumba-rhythm or snarling Howlin' Wolf guitar adding a little variety here and there. Recommended to fans of Leonard Cohen, Tindersticks, Chris Isaak and the above-mentioned.