Personnel: James McCartney (vocals, guitar, autoharp, Wurlitzer organ); Dhani Harrison, Jeff Wootton (guitar); Inger Carle, Susan Voelz (violin); Vannia Phillips (viola); Nora Barton (cello); Stephen Howard (bass guitar); Jay Sharrock (drums).
Audio Mixers: Steve Albini ; Steve Orchard.
Recording information: Electrical Audio, US; Hill Mill, UK.
Illustrators: Laura Barrett; James McCartney.
Arrangers: James McCartney; Youth.
James McCartney indulges in his Nirvana worship on The Blackberry Train, hiring In Utero producer Steve Albini to replicate the lurching, heavy three-chord rock of his Seattle heroes. At times, his love may be a little too plain -- "Paralysis" plays like a neutered In Utero, one where McCartney is reluctant to either scream or wail with either his guitar or voice -- but generally the pairing with the producer winds up benefiting McCartney, helping him sharpen his own voice. Albini is notorious for simply recording a musician -- he doesn't imprint his personality on an album, he merely documents what's there -- but the gravity of his approach stands in stark contrast to the professional polish David Kahne brought to 2013's Me. There was an appeal to that smoothness, especially as it highlighted McCartney's tunefulness, but Albini gives James' songs space and weight, a shift that emphasizes the clean classicist structure of his songwriting but also how McCartney favors muscle underneath his melody. This aesthetic does McCartney a world of good, for it showcases a distinctive voice. He can still be slightly sensitive -- the last third of the record is a bit delicate -- but The Blackberry Train contains a sonic ballast that contrasts nicely with his sweet voice and turns this into a satisfying heavy guitar pop record. ~ Stephen Thomas Erlewine