A Canadian singer-songwriter who has found a home on the Arts & Crafts label in his home country, Dan Mangan is perhaps the living embodiment of the niche artist. His fourth album – albeit the first to officially feature his Blacksmith band – won’t particularly change that state of affairs, yet it still provides a warm, intriguing listen in parts. The expanded musical backing certainly helps, with the brass, keys, violin and guitars mirroring his rich, emotive voice.
Always lyrically engaging – there’s a subtle political commentary at work here – the opening third of the record is hugely impressive, taking Mangan’s Americana roots in bold new directions. When the quality of songwriting starts to falter, however, Club Meds loses its strong foundation and begins to crumble, never really recovering its flow. Closing track ‘New Skies’ bucks the trend and is the strongest moment on the record with its bold, mariachi style brass flourishes but it merely highlights the shortcomings of much of what has come before. While Mangan’s efforts to move forward and to develop are to be encouraged, a bit more attention to the basics wouldn’t go amiss.