Have Mercy Las Vegas - Light & Shade


Scotland’s Loch Lomond area isn’t usually the locale one thinks of when considering barn-stomping country and rootsy Americana, but Dumbartonshire folk six-piece Have Mercy Las Vegas has spent the last ten years indulging in their shared passion for bluegrass pop, amassing an ever-growing fanbase and headlining a mainstage at Eden Festival plus selling out their hometown’s Denny Civic Theatre along the way. Taking four years to produce, new album Light & Shade plants itself firmly within the familiar territory of bluegrass melodrama as proffered on 2014’s That’s Life, offers nothing new, and feels less a studio album and more a perfunctory document of their live act.

There’s no lack of love across Light & Shade‘s hour length, an evident enthusiasm for their craft carries their sophomore effort some distance, fuelled by the simple magic of old friends playing music together is never without doubt. This authentic, communal joy is curiously straight-jacketed by terribly gentle songcraft and a cautiously tame evasion of anything remotely resembling grit, pain, or even the rusticness so prevalent in country’s rich heritage.

Songs like ‘Formby’s Smile’ or ‘Kick Drum & Run’ are inoffensive toe-tappers that balance precariously between honouring their love of traditional folk and wavering close to grating twee stomp, ‘She Looks Portuguese’ performing a dive bomb into the latter with its ukelele mawk. Lyrically too songwriter Crispin McAlpine often presents lines which are too obvious for evocation and too surface for affecting depth. ‘Alive’s’ environmental paean merely listing his political irks or ‘First Dance’s’ last line (“I’m glad you married me”) frustrates with their limited peripheries of poetic grasp.

Have Mercy Las Vegas do manage to harness dramatic dust storms, welcome breaks from the album’s otherwise cloying character. ‘Costa’ eerily wanders The Joshua Tree‘s meditative plains, soaring between stirring rock heft and brittle disquiet with an impressively cinematic lense. Twisted arrangements of haunted strings possess ‘Hold Tight’s’ dusky intensity, a bittersweet tease of a truly wounded performance that points to the authentic depths the band could reach should they dare tread.

Rarely straying from their country formula, Light & Shade cannot ever quite rid itself of the nagging lack of dimensions or thematic complexities four years in gestation should warrant. Perhaps it doesn’t matter? While the album exists in a largely tepid output, the songs contained will surely score many a reveller’s cherished pub memory or unforgettable hoe-down.