Every once in a while, performers seemingly fall from the heavens fully formed and clearly on the path to greater things. Tom Mcrae, a 28-year-old guitarist-singer from the leafy ‘burb of Chelmsford, England, is one of those performers. Wordplay and wit got a hearty workout in his slow and somber tunes, his delivery depth-defying in its deliberateness as he was able to keep a mostly industry crowd spellbound.
He started the evening with the stellar “Bloodless,” and each time he sang a line that stung, the full house had a sense that he would come up with something even more biting in the ensuing tune. That was until he delivered the demoralizing kicker in “The Boy With the Bubblegum”: “If words could kill, I’d spell your name.”
Mcrae’s accomplice was Ollie Kraus on cello, an instrument that kept the evening’s timbre dark and echoey. His soulful playing paralleled the textures that fill Mcrae’s stunning debut, which Arista will release Aug. 21. (Album won universal praise upon its release in the U.K. last year on the indie DB Records.)
Recent success stories such as David Gray and Badly Drawn Boy, not to mention the revival of the late Nick Drake, point to Mcrae’s commercial potential. As much as his style is unique, his voicings certainly approximate those of Drake and his songs share launching points with those of a young Paul Simon — both signs that he knows his history.