One man's idiosyncratic alt-folk is another's Jack Johnson. Case in point: The Boy Who Trapped the Sun, aka 25-year-old Isle of Lewis native Colin MacLeod, whose debut album straddles what should be a spectacular divide with such beguiling confidence that there's rarely a moment here that doesn't either embrace or repel. A comfortable, cuddly middle ground: utterly absent. If it's Elliott Smith one moment it's Newton Faulkner the next, like MacLeod has condensed myriad influences into an end product of broad appeal but possessing little character of its own.
Throughout he manages to maintain an easy on the ear atmosphere, pieces pleasantly meandering their way from opening strums and picks to quiet stillness. Drop some further names into the melting pot and each finds its place in this genre piece gumbo: Mull Historical Society, even Snow Patrol. It's not that the results aren't satisfying in the same way your mum's Sunday roast is, but they're just as familiar. This is a blessing in terms of immediacy - it takes only a single play through for these songs to reveal their cards in full. But few will return to Fireplace with any regularity once its tracks have been sampled and subsequently absorbed into a digital music library.
MacLeod is a neat lyricist, his rhymes sharp (indeed, there are instances of truly cutting wordplay) and the choruses here, while hardly rousing of volume, are at least capable of prompting a little sing-along appreciation amongst hardcore circles to be. Katy twangs with atonal glee in the rightly wrong places while a clean acoustic keeps the track on the straight and narrow; Thorn in Your Side struts with a smile to a woozy alt-country beat that's every second the match of prodigious progenies Jakob Dylan and Harper Simon; and Dreaming Like a Fool possesses the kind of playful piano work that made some of the late Elliott Smith's best work so enchanting. But nothing really trills a tune of its own, MacLeod evidently a great musical magpie but currently lacking the individual sparkle necessary to stand out from what is a sizeable singer-songwriter crowd.
Given his upbringing on a Scottish island, it'd be easy to conclude that MacLeod is simply the significantly cooler climate brethren of the Hawaii-born Johnson. But glimpses of something more, particularly apparent during arresting album highlight Walking in the Dark (half Midlake, half Sufjan Stevens), suggest he's the potential to outshine such would-be peers. Not yet, and not here. But just perhaps, next time out.