Tom McRae

It takes a heart of coal to sell off a wife for a handful of cash. Michael Henchard, one of the main characters in Thomas Hardy's masterpiece

The Mayor of Casterbridge
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, did just that and then dealt with the devastating emotional fallout. The woeful, gut-stabbing tunes that fill British singer-songwriter Tom McRae's most recent album,

Just Like Blood

, provide an almost-perfect musical backdrop to such harrowing regret. His mellow piano and guitar-filled compositions float in a foreboding sea of dissonance, but they cast just enough light to see dry land. It's easy to imagine McRae's tunes pouring from the dreary English air as Henchard, once the deed is done, walks a black, rain-slicked path, pondering his loss. And when a smile or two emerges along the way, it's not surprising. You can only wander in the fog for so long without a laugh or two.

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