Comfy country music with tasty bits of pedal steel, baritone and
12-string guitars, mandolin and harmonica, and Jimmy Deveney's
warm, welcoming vocals that garner sympathy for his road-weary, lovelorn
woes. Nothing earth-shattering here, but the musicianship is solid,
the songs nicely constructed. Those were my initial thoughts in the
first few tracks of Horse Opera's Sound Of The Desert,
until I reached the deceptively cheery "3 to Closing." From
within what appears at first listen a predictable 'beers and brawls'
seedy saloon romp, a chilling sense of isolation and heartbreaking
regret peeks out, raising the bar and piquing my interest.
While the sentiments are usually quite noble in your average country
song, I'm a "words girl" and I'm often disappointed and
bored by simplistic, clichéd phrases and easy rhymes. So when
my ear grasps a little bit of poetry, I get really excited. "I've
got prayer cards, and silver saint medals, and a mind for repetition
/ I live somewhere in the balance between faith and superstition /
But you'll seldom hear me complain / 'cause I've already circled the
drain." - "St. Celcila". Ok, so it's not Shakespeare,
but there's definitely something there in these tales of lost love
and self-loathing. Tastefully added harmonies and delightful guitar
and pedal steel sweeten the deal.
Kudos to Jimmy Deveney and Ben Sparks for their stellar production
and engineering. No unnecessary additives; simple and effective. It's
spare and clean, with crisp strings, bass lines and drum beats that
stand out and sparkle, and the vocals pouring out front and center
with earnest clarity.
"Spaghetti Mess" is a lovely instrumental interlude in
just the right place. The title shows humor and humility, but the
music gallops along admirably with some fine rhythm and delicate
guitar licks. I'm not a 'spaghetti western' expert, but I'd have
to say it's a fine job.
At times the lyrics are hackneyed and predictable ("Mother Mary
help me 'cause I'm on that hellbound train
"), but the music
stays strong, so an occasional slip back into weary, well-worn grooves
can be forgiven.
The songwriting gets slick again in "Salty Tears", which
also features tight harmonies. "I see it all too clearly now
'cause my hindsight is perfect / it works so well I keep my foresight
in my back pocket / Suffered the slings and arrows of righteous indignation
/ Well the truth will set me free, but it's offered no salvation
"I Won't Run" is another standout - a romantically sweet
ode to commitment phobia, with nice placement of homey harmonica.
They close with Scott Akers' "Best Day", in which
he takes the songwriting and lead vocal helm for a wildly upbeat jitterbug
romp. It's an immediate jolt out of the wistfulness that pervades
the album; perhaps they felt they should end on a more positive note?
While well executed, it feels a little abrupt after the guilty pleasure
of a shared late night self-pity party.
- Julie Stoller
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