Arnold: The Barn Tapes; Creation CRECD128

ALBUMS: 'Through the lo-fi sound and the sketchy song outlines can be glimpsed the seeds of greatness'

Despite having quite the worst name of any band debuting in 1997 - except, perhaps, for Parlophone outfit Cecil (no sniggering at the back) - London trio Arnold are the group for whom Creation boss Alan McGhee broke his self-imposed ban on new signings. Listening to this nine-track demo recorded in a medieval barn in Kent, you can understand why: through the lo-fi sound and the sketchy song outlines can be glimpsed the seeds of greatness.

The album title is a reference to Dylan & The Band's Basement Tapes, with which Arnold's humble offering shares a rudimentary method; the results, too, are somewhat similar in form, being mainly gentle, organic growths balanced on the cusp of rock and its folkier tributaries. At the rockier end, the ringing guitar tones of "Dog on the Stairs" bring to mind The Beatles' later stabs at proto-metal heaviness, while the wheedling blues- rock of "Calling Ira Jones" is a touch too close to the retro-rock furrow ploughed so assiduously by Lenny Kravitz. Better by far are the milder numbers: the yearning beauty of "Windsor Park", the rustic charm of "Sun", and the stately grace of "Face", all borne on melodies of beguiling mystery.

Some arrangements are understandably makeshift, and occasionally mistaken, but Arnold's instinct for voices is perfect. Drummer Phil Morris's lead vocals are moving examples of what might best be called folk-soul, while the harmonies have a texture as warm and complex as 25-year-old malt whisky. The songs, meanwhile, have the rare gift of exposing raw nerves painlessly, as when "2 Chairs" deals with the slow drift apart of friendship without lapsing into recrimination. If only life were this amenable.

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