Album Review: Cattle and Cane – Navigator

By Fionnuala Boyle

I am most definitely late to the party with Cattle & Cane’s music. Siblings Helen and Joe Hammill have gained an impressive following since they first started releasing music in 2015, boasting sold-out headline shows and airplay from music gurus such as Dermot O’Leary on BBC Radio 2 and John Kennedy on Radio X.

Having already achieved this much in four years, there is no doubt that the duo have already made their mark on the UK music scene.

Cattle & Cane’s latest album, Navigator, was released on 8th November and features eleven tracks full of soul, punch and emotion in equal measure.

‘Neighbourhood’, the opening track, is the perfect introduction to the steely vocals of Joe and Helen, with every lyric laden with depth and meaning. Even when the song gathers pace and becomes more anthemic towards its end, it does not detract from the pleading lyrics, particularly in the words ‘every day I think about the things I maybe should’ve said or could’ve done, but I guess it’s too late for that’. The song evokes regret and then acceptance, mixing up the tempo along the way. 

Next up is the definitively up-tempo ‘Mexico’, with its punchy beat and fun, poppy chorus that makes you want to turn the volume up and head out on a road trip. In this sense, it is definitely one to add to the playlist as a feel-good tune, the style of which is similar to ‘Leave the Light On’, a track that comes in fast and bold a few songs later.

But it is ‘Lonely Room’ which comes after that that is probably the first track on the album that instantly draws me in. Where the other songs have you invigorated and energised, ‘Lonely Room’ is dreamy; it is a song that you can escape to, that takes you away, and that doesn’t ask a lot of you to enjoy it. The trumpet solo in the last quarter of the song ensures that Cattle & Cane’s sound never becomes downbeat or colourless in any way.

The song ties in perfectly with ‘I Am Yours’ which, for me, is the real stand-out track on the album. Emotive and atmospheric, it builds a gradual, slow tension before breaking off momentarily to make way for some striking vocals. The track’s arrangement holds so much reverence, as do the strong, poetic lyrics which underpin it.

‘I Am Yours’ also serves as the perfect accompaniment to the album’s concluding track ‘Lion or the Lamb’ which features Joe’s John-Mayer-esque vocals and piano accompaniment, making it the perfect apogee to the record.

Tracks such as ‘Hurts Like Real Love’ bring the siblings’ voices together seamlessly. In fact, there seems to be this perfect balance of give and take between the two over the course of the whole album, with certain tracks harnessing the strength and emotionality of Helen’s voice to drive home the power behind the song, then others which give way for Joe to do the same.

It is so refreshing to listen to an album which combines easy listening – in the best sense of the phrase – with meaningful lyrics, sang by two voices which are just as brilliant individually as they are together.

‘Waiting to Become’ and ‘I Wish I Knew Jesus – Like You Do’ bring an element of country to the album, and the penultimate track ‘Hello Love’ is comparable to Coldplay’s ‘Lovers in Japan’ with its jangling electric guitar coming in on the chorus to make it a tune you can really stamp your feet to.

Normally, I only listen to particular songs or albums when I am in a particular mood, but Cattle & Cane’s album is one which fits every vibe. It is music with intent, music with kick, music with softness; it is a Sunday morning or a Saturday night, a fresh sound that you can jam out to or kick back to. It is like the soundtrack to a day well spent. Some of these elements may seem contradictory, but they are certainly not conflicting. Each song complements the other so beautifully, just like the vocals of Helen and Joe.

If you like the slow, considered melodies and meaningful lyrics of Saint Sister, but the up-tempo punchiness of Ferris & Sylvester, you’ll love this album.