There are plenty of New Zealand bands treading the alt-country route and trying to make the sound their own. Great North sure do come on like the genuine article on second album Halves, what with their hearty harmonies, wistful pianos, and pedal steels.

At times they recall the Jayhawks in their more ensemble moments, and sometimes Will Oldham - when the band's frontman-songwriter Hayden Donnell (whose missus Rachel supplies bass and lovely backing vocals) and his guitar are left to their own devices.

But better than that, this album shows Great North aren't just in the genre import business. They're a neatly sympathetic vehicle for Donnell's songs which lyrically speak of love, hope, death and life in uncertain times in elegantly poetic fashion and are left plenty of breathing space to do just that.

Those words come delivered in rousing tunes, powered by arrangements which take the songs' acoustic framework and build some impressively majestic folk-rock out of them.


That's especially so on full-blooded rustic anthems such as Lead Me To the Light and I Will Be Made New and the late-arriving title track which sounds like one of the better songs Arcade Fire never wrote.

Add in the poignant balladry of To Leave Someone or the psychedelic urge which takes over the otherwise fragile Actors and the 11 songs of Halves adds up to one very special whole.

Stars: 5/5
Verdict: At last, the best album of NZ Music Month.
Buy this album here.