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Matt Costa
Songs We Sing
Brushfire Records

Naming an album Songs We Sing may seem presumptuous, but Matt Costa seems to get away with it by offering melodies that make it difficult not to hum at least a few bars.

Released by Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records, this full-length debut has a notable sand-and-surf feel, but with a compelling pedigree hidden beneath the bittersweet complacency we're so accustomed to hearing from modern singer-songwriters. The pop overtones Costa lends to folk, country, and rock suggest he may be just as influenced by The Kinks' emulation of Americana music as he is by real thing. It's a unique twist that marries Brit-pop melodies, modern song-craft, and traditional styles in an aural ménage a trois.

Lyrically, Costa keeps his focus ambiguous without being esoteric. "And the salt burns my skin / and your eyes were cold as the ocean," he sings on "These Arms," just hinting at a potential sea of emotions resting beneath the song's piano-dotted surface. Such generalized lyrics make it easy for listeners to place themselves in the songs, but don't offer them much to do once they're there. Fortunately, their delivery is near perfect, with vocal harmonies and unique instrumentation to fill any gaps. When a harpsichord enters "Astair" it offers some classical refinement to what might otherwise be just another letter to a mutually disenchanted former lover.

Costa apes a variety of musical styles, throwing some stock blues guitar on "Ballad Of Miss Kate," and borrowing heavily from both Buddy Holly ("Sweet Rose") and The Beatles ("Oh Dear"). It's nice to see that kind of daring, but the effort here is at times too earnest. The transparency with which Costa invokes his forebears robs Songs We Sing of its own identity and leaves it sounding more like a multi-artist compilation than a cohesive full-length debut. A lack of stylistic unity shouldn't be a deal-breaker, though, and for those looking for a singer-songwriter who sings more than one song, Matt Costa is likely worth a listen.

-Jacob McCarthy

Track Listing:
1. Cold December
2. Astair
3. Sweet Thursday
4. Sunshine
5. These Arms
6. Ballad Of Miss Kate
7. Sweet Rose
8. Songs We Sing
9. Yellow Taxi
10. I Tried

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