Full disclosure: this album was produced and recorded by one of my favourite people*. So on one hand, I am no stranger to Mike Rosenberg a.k.a. Passenger. On the other, it made me pay extra attention to the production of this album in a way I rarely do.
Rosenberg is a British (semi) ex-pat. He divides his year between the UK and Australia, busking on the streets and living the dream of The Endless Summer. The first thing that struck me was a vocal resemblance to Damien Rice and an evident affection for Cat Stevens. Rosenberg's voice has a really distinctive timbre but unlike Rice, he rarely belts out his tunes but sweetly talks us through his different stories and life lessons. He is also quirkier. You could imagine him at the pub sharing anecdotes from the road over a pint with the likes of Josh Pyke, Lior, Darren Hanlon and fellow northerners, Mumford & Sons. He is very much of this ilk.
I had only heard Passenger in the form of a pared-back acoustic session with Rosenberg accompanied by just a guitar. It was a real treat to play the album for the first time and hear it fleshed out with with strings, bells, horns and vibraphones. The first track, "Things That Stop you Dreaming", opens with a cello and violin that immediately evoke Rosenberg's UK heritage and make for a very uplifting opening. If you listen carefully, you'll hear these reappear subtly throughout various tracks on the album in what is a beautiful and understated mix. There is far more orchestration here than on your conventional Aussie folk-pop album.
The three stand-out tracks for me are the opening number I just mentioned, "Let her Go" and "Patient Love". "Let Her Go" opens with an quiet tinkle but once the guitars and drums kick in, followed by those gorgeous strings, this song really soars.
"Patient Love' appears half way through the album and arrives at just the right moment. Lyrically, Rosenberg leans towards life lessons (no doubt gleaned from his time on the road), sayings and aphorisms: "life's for the living so live it, or you might as well be dead"... "You only know you love her when you let her go"... I admit, I did get a bit fatigued by the rhetorical tropes and generalities. There are a few tracks that are explicit in the personal stories they tell (such as the jaunty "Staring at the Stars") and "Patient Love" delivers that intimacy I was hoping for. Plus it has the most gorgeous and tender vibraphone harmonising gently in the background.
The album has a really cute coda - the inclusion of a live version of "I Hate" from the Borderline in London. As a fellow, relentless optimist, I love Passenger's positive world view. Even when he devotes an entire song to all the things that piss him off, you can tell it comes from a position that there is so much to love and enjoy in the world, why do we spoil it with useless rubbish? (But not in an irritating, Michael Franti way). This live track also reveals what a charming live performer he is and this is what has earned him such a loyal following on both sides of the globe.
Check out an acoustic version of "Let Her Go" below (sounds great but the there is quite a distracting big furry monster in the background!) and album is available for download on itunes...
* Chris Vallejo is the owner of Linear Recording Studios in Sydney, Australia. He has produced and/or engineered the likes of Josh Pyke, Empire of the Sun and INXS to name but three. He also plays a mean bass guitar and is responsible for enabling my delusion that I could actually play the drums.