Music Review: Vagrant – Mike Nisbet
Album on release
Reviewed by Guy Sangster Adams
A few tracks in I suddenly realised I had been holding my breath on my first listen to Mike Nisbet’s debut album, Vagrant. Holding my breath, hoping against hope, that as each song played and I liked it as much and more than the previous one that every song on the album would be a winner. And that is how it was, and how it is. But also, having allowed myself to breathe somewhere around track three, at the end of that first listen I found that the album as a whole has a wonderfully transcendent quality. Listening to Vagrant in its entirety I felt as though I had travelled widely with the songs, seen people and places that had changed my mind and my mood, but returned to where I was sitting feeling far calmer, more relaxed, and hopeful.
Travelling allied to a sense of rootlessness, as the title suggests, is central to Vagrant as Nisbet wrote the album’s ten tracks having spent a peripatetic year living between London and Glasgow. Vagrant was then recorded in Glasgow’s Diving Bell Lounge by Marcus Mackay (whose credits also include Snow Patrol, Frightened Rabbit, Sparrow & the Workshop). The songs draw influence not only from his experiences and emotions on the road between the two cities, but also from the traditional folk music of both Scotland and England, and further afield from Americana. His intention for the sound and feel of the album was that it should be intimate, “one man playing directly to the listener” utilizing primarily simple acoustic guitar and percussion.
Intriguingly given the above the word that continually comes to mind when listening to Vagrant is, majestic. In no small part this is due to the fantastic sonority of Nisbet’s voice. It is imbued with his Caledonian heritage – he was born in the town of Oban to the north west of Glasgow – fused with both the steel of Clydebuilt and the drama and rich hues of the Highlands. Whilst also being etched with the hardness of the road, but suffused with the wisdom that hope is still alive around every corner. It’s a voice of history that belies the fact that Nisbet is in his twenties. It’s a voice that one wants to travel with.
This majesty is very much to the fore on my favourite song on Vagrant (favourite amongst favourites), Snow Me In. This epic song, which even though knowing it to be a new song one feels sure must be a standard as soon as one hears it, is the only track on the album to feature Nisbet on piano rather than guitar. A beautiful maelstrom it evokes and holds its own vocally, musically and atmospherically with Elvis’ In the Ghetto, and Nick Cave’s Into My Arms and He Wants You.
Other echoes that come to mind whilst listening to Vagrant are Nick Drake, particularly the album, Five Leaves Left, John Martyn’s album, Solid Air, and Tim Hardin. Other reviewers have made references to Bob Dylan. For me, listening to Vagrant, interestingly if I was put in mind of Dylan at all it was of Time Out Of Mind. Interestingly because that was Dylan’s 30th studio album and he was 56 when he recorded it. Over twice the age Nisbet was when he recorded Vagrant, which perhaps compounds Nisbet’s seemingly inherent time out of mind-ness that runs counter to his age. As a sidebar there is another link as Time Out Of Mind featured Dylan’s 16-minute paean to Scotland, Highlands.
But really the beauty of Vagrant is that it stands alone and is a very good album in its own right. It is passionate, poetical, and compelling, with a travelling, or sometimes, tidal rhythm that propels one from track to track. Rather like the train window reverie that happens on a long journey that takes one at speed both through industrial cities and the most beautiful rural landscapes influencing the thoughts that occur and alight, Vagrant is a glorious soundtrack of both memory and dreams, of loves lost and loves still to come, of melancholy but also of hope. A hope, that is like the never quite darkening glow in the sky to the north of Glasgow’s streets. It is the possibility of the journey, that one doesn’t arrive exactly the same as one sets out. Even if far from home, or looking for a place to call home, after listening to Vagrant one is ready to face the road again, or if listening en route to keep going forward.