The London-based singer's unabashed emotionalism puts him in good company on Badman, as the San Francisco imprint is also home to moony sad sacks Rebecca Gates and Mark Kozelek. Like those singers, Hindle has a knack for wringing emotion from a few chord changes and simple lyrics. Hindle also shares his label mates' attraction to fragile things, as evidenced by this collection of breakable ballads with titles like "Down & Able" and "(Masks)." The subtleness of Hindle's work makes his tunes feel as much like bubbles as music, with the iridescent shapes floating on updrafts of cello and tiny currents of finger-picked guitar. And where the songs soar, so soars Hindle's voice -- a deceptively meaty tenor gliding along on featherlight melodies.
If the mixture sounds saccharine, it's not. Hindle is more than just sentimental; he's also courageous. This is a man who launched his career last year by covering John Denver's "Whispering Jesse" on Badman's Take Me Home compilation. And now, in the midst of his first album, all decked out in earnestness and emotion, he has the good sense to risk everything by playing a Bee Gees song.
The song is "I Started a Joke," which comes from the Bee Gees third album, Idea. As Bee Gees tunes go, it's pretty refined stuff, but putting any Bee Gees number on a folk record is dangerous. "I Started a Joke" could have easily snuffed the candlelit mood that the rest of the album so painstakingly establishes.
Hindle's interpretation of the Brothers Gibb, though, is immaculate; the acoustic reworking excavates the song's soul while injecting an essential amount of levity into the proceedings. Hindle's willingness to blow his indie credibility with unfashionable songs (Glenn Campbell's "Less of Me" gets the same sublime treatment) helps transform a merely pretty album into something more interesting and daring. For all its brushes with schmaltz, James William Hindle manages to emerge both personal and pure -- a shimmering bubble reflecting the many facets of an intriguing new songwriter.