Neil Halstead Sleeping On Roads

[4AD; 2002]

Rating: 3/5

Styles: singer/songwriter, indie rock
Others: Mojave 3, Slowdive, Bedhead

Neil Halstead, former Slowdive member and current Mojave 3 frontman, has strung together a light-hearted record full of quasi-folk melodies and luscious seasonings. Trucker's rejoice: The record joins the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin and Bedhead's Transation De Novo as perfect road albums.

The appropriately titled Sleeping On Roads marks Halstead's debut solo album. The record was conceived rather spontaneously: After Halstead broke up with his girlfriend and found himself homeless, he found shelter in a studio for two months. Out of boredom, Halstead began recording some songs, many of which were originally intended for past Mojave 3 albums. The result are these nine extremely intimate and exquisite pieces.

The album melds together the most organic of instruments, ranging from acoustic guitars and horns to violins and banjos. Halstead's intimate vocals flirt with the acoustic guitar throughout most of the album. Layers of instruments pile themselves onto the acoustic/vocal backbone, emitting an atmospheric quality that breathes life into the seemingly simple folk songs. The production quality is extremely effective in creating a juxtaposition of these elements in the most stunning manner.

It's hard to pinpoint the weak moments on the album. Each song segues nicely into one another, while the songs themselves can stand by themselves just as easily. Many contain slow buildups to climactic outros-- one of the album's highlights "See You On Rooftops" is a prime example, as the song builds up to a cacophonous wall of sound. "Martha's Mantra (For The Pain)" follows as the quietest and most intimate moment on the album, containing a melody that would sit comfortably on a Yo La Tengo album. Noticeable tape hiss floats in the background, underscoring the appropriate production for each song. Elsewhere, "Dreamed I Saw Soldiers" is a song that was done to the tune of Damien Jurado's "Ohio," and proves just as effective as the original.

Amidst a slew of guest musicians, Mojave 3 bandmate Ian McCutcheon donates his drumming skills and Nick Holton (Coley Park) lends keyboards, vibes, and "funny noises." Yeah, it may be a couple members short of a Mojave 3 reunion, but hey, it's better than not having another road album.

Simple yet fulfilling. Intimate yet daring. Sleeping On Roads is the kind of album that fills you with those mushy images of Meg Ryan & Tom Hanks (You've Got Mail, Sleepless in Seattle), Meg Ryan & Billy Crystal (When Harry Met Sally), and Meg Ryan & Nicholas Cage (City of Angels), except without the processed cheese.

1. Seasons
2. Two Stones in My Pocket
3. Driving With Bert
4. Hi-Lo And Inbetween
5. See You On Rooftops
6. Martha's Mantra (For The Pain)
7. Sleeping On Roads
8. Dreamed I Saw Soldiers
9. High Hopes

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