Reading about someone before you listen to them is always problematic. I had never heard of this guy but then I read a lot about him on Wikipedia before listening to this record and so much of it was about how much of an “outsider” he was. Well, he may well have been an outsider culturally, and he certainly didn’t make the most commercial music, but if you’re expecting something weird well, you’ve come to the wrong place.
Coyne is a blues/folk singer with a very distinctive voice, somewhere between Van Morrison (he sounds like a very rough Morrison at times) and Captain Beefheart (only vocally, and only really on the title track) or, as someone else on RYM put it, as if Ronnie Lane was on drugs. But that’s his voice; it’s the least conventional aspect of this record and, though it’s an acquired taste (except when he sounds like Van Morrison) , the music underlying the voice is, for the most part, pretty conventional blues rock or folk rock.
Coyne is a decent songwriter, an above average one you might say. At least one song here is an absolute classic, “House on the Hill.” It’s worth noting that it is about an asylum and I can’t think of anyone else who has written about a mental health hospital in this light, or really at all. The other songs here aren’t up to the standard, and some of them are a little – I stress “little” – weirder. His melodies are catchy enough – important especially given his grating voice – and his lyrics range from thought provoking to obscure or possibly lazy.
There’s a relatively spare band here, with a guitar or two, sometimes a keyboard, bass and drums. They are playing relatively rough, unpolished, which is nice but the mix is not great, everything feels far away, even his voice, which is often most prominent.
Certainly this guy had talent. But he’s not doing anything as original as Wikipedia makes it seem – except for the songs about mental illness – and the recording could have been better. Still, an interesting songwriter and performer, if not as “outside” as I was led to believe.