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Some time after trading the elaborate electric-guitar effects of Slowdive for the raw acoustic-guitar stylings of Mojave 3, Neil Halstead learned to finger-pick. On his debut solo disc, Sleeping on Roads, Halstead makes fantastic use of this new skill, turning out a record that evokes the folk-pop of fellow Brits Nick Drake and Bert Jansch. Though Halstead’s singing recalls Drake’s soft, tremulous delivery rather than Jansch’s unpolished, occasionally awkward style, it’s
Jansch who gets name-dropped on “Driving With Bert,” a song that also summons Belle and Sebastian at their up-tempo, lightly orchestrated best. The album-opener, “Seasons,” has a B&S feel, too, with its daintily tapping drums gently pushing the song forward as Halstead picks a repetitious acoustic arpeggio and overdubs a clean, electric lead. As melodically appealing as these tracks are, however, the album gains its distinction with tunes that slow down from peppy pop to melancholic English folk. “Two Stones in My Pocket” is a lovely trad-style ballad treated with discreet electronic effects and percussion that edge the song into modernity. The Dylanesque “High Hopes,” the lo-fi waltz “Martha’s Mantra (For the Pain),” and the Fleetwood Mac-like “Hi-Lo and Inbetween” follow suit, with the last’s opening lines encapsulating the album’s lyrical content: “One day it just snowed, I guess, and they closed the roads into your heart.” Halstead, who was never afraid of singing love and love-lost songs with his previous bands, spends most of this new album doing the same: Sleeping on Roads is more than just a title—it’s pretty much what Halstead was forced to do after he and his girlfriend broke up and he became temporarily homeless. Heartache and homelessness aren’t conditions I’d normally want to wish on anyone, but if Halstead can turn them into an album as fabulous as this, I might just change my mind. —Christopher Porter