Withered Hand - Good News (4 stars)

Withered Hand - Good News

Withered Hand is not, alas, a Jeremy Beadle tribute band. It is, however, the nom de plume of Edinburgh alt.folk messiah Dan Willson – and for said dude we should give thanks.

Willson is a curious pop disciple: a deadpan bard eternally vexed by the doctrines of God, the inconsequence of life, and the transparent nature of modern swimwear. Good News, his gorgeous debut album, delivers a compendium of warped-rock sermons that variously reference Seventh-day Adventism (‘Cornflake’); lyrical post-rationalisation (‘For the Maudlin’); and knocking one out on your paramour’s couch (‘Religious Songs’, his signature anthem).

Despite his dedication to a DIY cause that’s seen Withered Hand galvanise Edinburgh’s live terrain and perform with Jeffrey Lewis and Calvin Johnson, Willson’s quavering vocals and acoustic eulogies elicit heavy-hitters Bright Eyes (on woebegone porch-swing opener ‘Providence’) – and even Neil Young at times.

Fans will recognise much of Good News: previous Withered Hand singles feature, but they’re (needlessly) tweaked by producer Kramer (Low, Daniel Johnston). Hence deficit aria ‘No Cigarettes’ surrenders some of its vulnerability, while a refinement of ‘Religious Songs’ misplaces the hymn’s initial scrabbly desperation.

This is a minor quibble. Willson’s sing-a-long afflictions and satirical narratives are marvellous. ‘Lord... won’t you listen to me, your unfaithful servant’s filthy fucking language’, he importunes on ‘Love in the Time of Ecstasy’, a sonorous ‘so-what’ to the hereafter.

‘In the greater scheme of things, I am nothing’, he later claims – which just goes to show that, despite being splendid, Withered Hand is not always right.