Justin Vernon, The National, Lisa Hannigan, Sharon Van Etten, Fleet Foxes, Ben Howard, Thomas Bartlett...and Taylor Swift? If the line-up isn't impressive enough for you, then maybe its batch of left-of-centre folk/pop won't be your thing. That would, however, be your loss as there is enough lingering goodness here to warrant repeated investigation.
Blame Aaron Dessner, primary songwriter in The National. Big Red Machine is his creatively fluid side project that began some years ago, initially with Justin Vernon. The results of their 2018 self-titled debut album were inspired by a mix of improvisation and what Dessner has described as “structured experimentalism”.
Album two springs from different traps. While it might be too obvious to point a finger at Dessner’s work last year with Taylor Swift (on her exquisitely morose sibling albums, Folklore and Evermore) for the subtle changes, what we know from here is that Dessner wasn’t above sharing embryonic Big Red Machine music with her.
The full Swift delivery here is Renegade, and while it wouldn’t be out of place on Evermore, other tracks such as Phoenix (featuring Fleet Foxes’ Robin Pecknold), The Ghost of Cincinnati (featuring a Dessner vocal on a song he originally wrote for Swift), and Hutch (a gorgeous tribute to Frightened Rabbit’s Scott Hutchinson) are more than equal to the task.