Comparisons to the great dark heroes of glowering Americana flew thick and fast around Viarosa. These categorisations were apt but seemed to fall a little short.
For all the gloom, as the band progressed a lightness came into the still-muscular songs and something eloquent and delicate into the swoop of frontman Richard Neuberg’s unmistakeable baritone. It was no coincidence that their touring-partners included idiosyncratic greats like Josh T. Pearson, Midlake and Robyn Hitchcock, or that they opened for REM in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.
For all the mandolins, acoustic guitars and fiddles, it was no hackneyed Americana wasteland that the music evoked but somewhere far stranger and more interesting – and English. Neuberg’s new material is a further move into this unfamiliar, dark yet welcoming vista that is all his own. Returning after a number of years of silence (spent, amongst other things, establishing Oxfordshire’s thriving Strawhouse Studios and producing dozens of artists in a huge range of genres), Neuberg brings new material that is even more resistant to pigeon-holing. Vastnesses are conjured and apocalyptic sorrows hinted-at, but alongside them are intimate fingerpicked cat’s cradles more akin to Nick Drake than Nick Cave. All his producing expertise seems to have taught Neuberg the simple lesson that less is more: strings hover and glint, never smothering; that powerful voice whispers as often as it howls; proceedings are haunted by the ghost of a piano. There’s a new emphasis upon sweetness of melody and arresting flourishes abound.
If The Independent heard in Viarosa ‘the sound of revenge’, Neuberg’s new songs are the sound of dark reconciliations, of uneasy joy, of light and shade – and of a well-loved artist taking a big step into the future.
Currently putting the finishing touches to a new album, to be released under his own name for the first time, Richard Neuberg will be touring the UK and elsewhere in 2017.