There is a certain style of male voice that just oozes angst. Think Bruce Springsteen, Chris Rea, Thom Yorke. The songs are great — but, oh, the inner pain, the questioning pain!
Judging from his new album, Hold Fast, Scottish singer-songwriter Colin Macleod firmly belongs in this pantheon. His voice is rich, the lyrics are clever, the musical production is great. And there is plenty of pain and angst in his delivery.
This is far from a bad thing, of course. It makes you want to listen, particularly as the words can be haunting. Among the best come in “Looking for God”: “Are you looking for God? / I didn’t know that he was missing / I didn’t know I should be looking / Is it really him that’s lost?”
Hold Fast is not a roots album per se. There are elements of country in it and a bit of folk. But it is also a pop and rock melange — “Sleep” is quite heavy — with something of a wall of sound on occasion. Adding to the mix are two duets with mixed-genre diva Sheryl Crow, with whom Macleod toured in 2018.
Together, they offer up one of the gentler songs on the album. “33” is about that sudden moment when you realize your unfettered youth has ended and you are still waiting for something to happen. You wonder when life will begin, not noticing that it has.
There are subtle Scottish elements throughout the album, which is hardly surprising. Not only is Macleod a Scot, he is a practitioner of being a traditional one, raising sheep and living on the Isle of Lewis in the Outer Hebrides.
At least two tracks reference this. “Queen of the Highlands” is about returning to the island after an undefined period of apparent betrayal away. (Macleod has been out and about, appearing in shows with Robert Plant and Roger Waters as well as on James Corden’s The Late Late Show.)
The other, “This Old Place,” is described as a love letter to his island in which Macleod — painfully and plaintively, of course — asks if it (or someone he loves on the island) will stay with him: “Love these old grey streets / The cracks like river-flowing memories / I had my first drink here / Hope my last is back there too.”
The problem Macleod may face is that if Hold Fast gets the attention it should, it will become harder and harder for him to wrap himself in his island security as he moves into a well-deserved larger spotlight.