Cattle & Cane have had a few releases under their belt and all of a high standard, but this could be their best yet. On first listen I almost forgot it was Joe and Helen Hammill on this record and I am not sure what that actually means as I write this, but it did take a few attempts to get the right words to do this justice. And I hope I have done it justice.
I heard a few tracks prior to the release but nothing quite prepared me for Navigator. The vocals definitely confirmed I was listening to Cattle & Cane and there are elements in production that prove it’s them. There are sounds that could be compared to other artists, like I did with the last album, but I don’t think we can even compare them to anyone with this latest offering.
A stripped back opener with Joe’s smokey yet vulnerable vocals on ‘Neighbourhood’, then Helen’s velvety tones comes in after the chorus. You can actually feel the words “You said we could fix this, You said that we could…” thump in your chest especially with what sounds like a choir echoing in the background. Do we even talk about the harmonies? One of the strongest openings of an album and setting the next 10 songs up nicely. What follows is the first single taken from this album, ‘Mexico’, which has received a lot of critical acclaim and once you hear it is obvious why. It is such a BIG song in terms of a catchy hook and the upbeat music lifts you even in the heartache of the lyrics.
If you can take your mind to the late 1980s / early 1990s and think of the big upbeat ballads then this is what ‘Lonely Room’ is. Helen gets to reign on the parade of the classics. There’s even a sax break included! ‘Leave The Light On’ also has the pop element, though feels a lot bigger and it is one of those songs where you just sing like no one is listening. ‘Loving The Hurt Away’ then takes the best of the previous two and stripping it back a little.
Cattle & Cane have been labelled folk and there are definitely elements of that in ‘Waiting To Become’ from the opening guitar strings to how the drum interjects with the second verse. And listen for that fiddle. And then we get ‘Hello Love’ which is more of a country-pop vibe. Folk, pop, indie. Whatever you want to label Cattle & Cane, they can put their own mark on it.
‘I Wish I Knew Jesus (Like You Do)’ is the big surprise on Navigator. Yes, Joe and Helen as musicians may be versatile in how they deliver their music, but this is something different from their previous sounds of Cattle & Cane. Helen has said of the making of the album that, “We’ve always been ambitious, but I think locking ourselves away with Pete [Hammerton] for the last few months has enabled us to create some songs that really justify our ambition,” and this maybe one of their most ambitious songs so far and it is definitely something I could get used to.
On the other side of the coin there’s ‘Lion Of The Lamb’ which feels like the Cattle & Cane we know, and with what feels like a very experimental album, it is great to have this sound still there. ‘I Am Yours’ is the most minimalistic track – laying their hearts on the table and feeling like they could ‘take us to church’ with it.
Navigator shows that Joe and Helen just love making music and whatever they seem to do it works. It is an album that seems to be a lot about break-ups and failed relationships but to borrow a line from ‘Hurts Like Real Love’, “even if you break my heart, I won’t give you up,” – this should be the feeling of everyone that crosses the music of Cattle & Cane, as to hear them sing of lost love actually is a not just a good healer but a great healer. This record might have just topped all the other albums I thought were my albums of the year to being THE album of 2019.