Walk (2010) is an extremely assured and consistently engaging first album from Australian singer-songwriter Israel Cannan. The record evolved from Cannan’s travels across Australia, where he drove through every state, writing songs, busking, and otherwise developing and promoting his music. “Concept album” feels like too grandiose a term for the resulting, fairly modest record, but it’s certainly true that Walk holds together very well as a song cycle; its 13 tracks are carefully sequenced and paced, arranged, I would suggest, to convey the rhythms of a journey, from urgent stride to measured stroll, with moments of quiet contemplation. Cannan wrote, produced, and recorded the album solo, and plays all the instruments himself, with most of the songs centred around his (acoustic and electric) guitar-playing, and augmented by drums, harmonica, and piano. The album combines folky intimacy and rock attitude, with even its gentlest songs anchored by strong hooks. Vocally, there’s a suggestion of Eddie Vedder to Cannan’s delivery, and he variously croons, whispers, rasps and bellows with dexterity. The urgent strum of the opening track “Set Me Free” places its protagonist on the cusp of departure with no clear destination in mind, Cannan inviting the listener into the album with the repeated inquiry : “Where do you want to go/While the day‘s still young?” From there, the songs go on to develop as little bulletins focusing on different aspects of travel: arriving, waiting, departing, getting lost. Appropriately enough Cannan’s melodies don’t always take the expected route, either; the strongest tracks here move in sometimes surprising directions. “The Final Day,” for example, opens, with a Pixies-ish bass riff while “On My Way” starts out uncannily like Holly Throsby before picking up pace and urgency in the infectious choruses. Turbulent percussion intrudes effectively into the jaunty “Let It Rain,” while the ringing “To The Left” is constructed inside out, with driving, propulsive verses and slowed choruses. “Forever This Time” is a quiet anthem, with delicate harmony vocals and squeaky guitar-strings. And the lovely “Letting Go” shifts brilliantly from tentativeness to exuberance, as its repeated title becomes a mantra of affirmation, rather than an admission of surrender or defeat.
Walk suffers a little bit from singer-songwriter earnestness: some of the lyrical imagery is rather familiar and a touch of humour wouldn’t go amiss. But otherwise this mature, soulful and generous-spirited record is a highly accomplished debut.
Cannan tours the UK next month. Further details here