The Late Call Manages the Volume While Tempering the Tone
No single band or individual artist typifies the universal appeal of music more than the ensemble that refers to itself by the unlikely name The Late Call. That’s because Johannes Mayer, the band’s founder and consistent mainstay, is an international artist in every sense of the word. A German by birth, he resides in Stockholm, Sweden, sings in English, and purveys a sound that frequently brings to mind such Americana icons as Townes van Zandt and Tim Hardin. His points of origin are so disparate, in fact, that in a fanciful way, he could be identified as a kind of one-man UN.
Mayer has recorded four albums to date (Leaving Notes, You Already Have a Home, Pale Morning Light and his latest, Golden), all branded under the aegis of his alter ego, The Late Call. However, Golden (due April 10 on Tapete Records) may be the one to bring him wider renown.
The disc finds Mayer returning home to Germany for the recording, to a studio in Bremen, to be exact. It also sees him expanding his musical palette as a means of accommodating an actual band, one that positions him up front on guitar and particularly breathy vocals, while Patric Thorman plays bass and Hammond organ, Henrik Roger provides piano and Mellotron, and Lars Plogschties anchors the proceedings on drums and percussion.
Mayer’s hired hands aside, Golden more or less picks up where Pale Morning Light left off in 2012. It emphasizes and expands on the pastoral imagery that has characterized each of his earlier outings and elevates the hushed, twilight ambiance that’s clearly become so essential to his sound. To be sure, the presence of additional musicians eliminates some of the more elusive elements of his past recordings, but that supple, sublime aesthetic still remains intact.
While it may be a bit of a stretch to call Mayer’s music folk-rock, there’s no doubt that comparisons to the hushed, emotive sound of Nick Drake come immediately to mind. However, if that was the only point of reference, then The Late Call might be relegated to a pack of also-rans, given that Drake is an all-too-often basis of comparison. Suffice it to say that, in its own way, The Late Call’s sound is somewhat more emphatic, if only for the fact that it makes a more immediate impact. While the melodies may be fleeting, the arrangements leave a lingering impression. There’s nothing phony or farcical attached to Mayer’s muse, but rather a careful attention to detail, emotional symmetry, and the creation of specific sound suggestion through evocative aural imagery.
These melodies are precise, the instrumentation spare, the lyrical sentiment spun from bittersweet reflection. Both sensitive and seductive to a fault, The Late Call is the kind of outfit that’s able to transport the listener to another plane – a safer, more idyllic locale – where trouble and despair may not dissipate entirely, but serenity reigns regardless.