Album Review: Dan Michaelson and the Coastguards – Saltwater

Saltwater is the debut solo album from Absentee frontman Dan Michaelson. The songs which he originally wrote after the release of the critically acclaimed Schmotime, were rejected by the band because they didn’t fit the Absentee sound. It has become one of those stories passed so freely between reviewers, you wonder if there isn’t some myth-making going on, accidental or otherwise. But there is every chance the decision may yet prove to be a defining moment in both of their careers.

As you would expect with a solo project, the voice comes to the fore. And Michaelson has a voice many have already compared to the likes of Leonard Cohen, Nick Cave and Lou Reed. His hung-over baritone and the witty phrasing of his lyrical despond promise consolation where there is heart-break and raise a smile where there is not. In the opener, ‘Ease on in’, Michaelson yearns: “You say you’re leaving/Some clothes on the line/ Just until they’re dry.” These are well crafted songs played extremely well by the loose collective of musicians known as The Coastguards.

Among the players on the album are Henry Fields from Fields, and Arnulf Lindner, who plays bass with Ed Harcourt and KT Tunstall, among others. But it is the horns, from The Rumble Strips’ Tom Gorbutt and Henry Clark, that win the day, notably on bluesy ‘I Was a Gentleman’. Icelandic producer Valgier Sigurdson, known for his work with luminaries including Bjork, Bonnie “Prince” Billy and Sigur Ros does a masterful job and even manages to add some piano.

I took Saltwater out for an aimless Sunday drive in the country and it stood up very well, but no doubt it will play well too inside the dowdy walls of bedsit-land. Whether or not Michealson is ready to rub along with the greats, there is no denying this album its place among the hits of the year.

Words: Jon Cheetham