Revisionists might dub Welsh guitarist/keyboardist/singer Stuart Moxham the godfather of love-rock, but when he, his brother Philip and singer Alison Statton — the Young Marble Giants — first foisted their doomy beatnik jazz-pop on an unsuspecting post-punk audience at the dawn of the ’80s, the mood they sought to convey was anything but innocent. Despite the sometimes timorous tones, the Giants proved to be a touchstone for neo-minimalists as philosophically diverse (to say the least) as the Olympia brat-pack, Galaxie 500 and Hole leader Courtney Love (who covered “Credit in the Straight World”). After the group’s premature split, the Cardiff native went on to lead the Gist — an equally minimal, but slightly less pastoral, combo that had an equally brief existence, releasing a lone album in 1983.
Nearly a decade passed before Moxham — who had gone on to pursue more conventional grown-up activities like animation — would return to public airing of his music. Signal Path indicates that the ensuing years did little to change the spirit of his work, but they certainly nudged his delivery towards the middle of the road. That’s not necessarily a bad thing: songs like “Her Shoes (Are Right)” and “Over the Sea” have a mellow lilt redolent of mid-’60s adult pop, complete with brushed drums and sunny harmonica that subtly shade Moxham’s gentle (if slightly flat) voice. He’s quite a bit less successful when he strays off the pop path bounded by Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson and attempts to tackle pseudo-jump blues (“No One Road”) and reggae (the downright embarrassing “Yeah X 3”). Fortunately, such detours are infrequent, and those able to endure them are compensated by the exquisite “Knives (Always Fall),” a duet with Statton.
Cars in the Grass covers much the same ground, with the added benefit of Moxham finding slightly more secure footing as a vocalist. The Original Artists (which include his brother Andrew on drums) provide accompaniment that varies from spare to superfluous. For Fine Tuning, Moxham forgoes their backing altogether, opting to record a passel of his older material (plus the previously unreleased “I Wish” and “One of These Days”) with just his acoustic guitar for company. He goes back as far as the Young Marble Giants (for “Nita,” “Final Day” and a still-moving reprise of “Credit in the Straight World”) and the Gist (“This Is Love”), but neither the years nor the occasional muffed note can tarnish the simple brilliance of his songs.