Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Heirlooms of August show potential with folk/country blend

Alright, I've got one for all you country/folk fans. In the 90s, Jerry Vessel played bass for the Red House Painters while Mark Kozelek stole the show. But with his new project, Heirlooms of August, Vessel boldly announces that he's ready to step out from behind the curtain and show off his own songwriting skills.

Forever the Moon is chock full of acoustic folk, a dash of country, and vividly realized pastoral imagery. You'll hear your fair share of tunes about a guy in a straw hat planting tomatoes on a hot summer day.

The album's most standout attribute are the harmonies delivered by Vessel and Vivian Ginn. It's similar to many of the great male/female harmony combos: Alison Krauss and Union Station, Gillian Welch and Colin Meloy; perhaps even Win Butler and RĂ©gine Chassagne if either of them felt inclined to pick up a banjo.

There are some very well penned lyrics in place that pack an emotional punch. The title track is an ode to a father's love for his child. He talks about the birth of his son and then links it into an analogy about rain bringing new life to the earth. I find it a very nice touch.

"Anyway, Sweetness," is another gem. With lyrics that tell of the misdeeds and regrets of an alcoholic lover, it bears resemblance to Brad Paisley's and Krauss's "Whiskey Lullaby."

Other standouts include "Annie," the tale of a knockout cello player, and "Beautiful Summer," a tune dedicated to drinking lemonade, watching baseball, and playing hide and seek on a hot summer day. Vessel sings mostly solo here, allowing his husky, mellow voice to shine through. He sounds okay, but is better when singing with Ginn.

However, the album does have it's share of problems. The harmonies are a nice touch, but the arrangements honestly aren't all that clever. Most of the time both vocalists sing the same notes, just in a different octave. It's alright, but a little more creativity would go a long way.

The songwriting itself is hit or miss. Some of the concepts are well thought out, but aren't properly executed or are awkwardly juxtaposed.

The biggest offender is "Blackness from Blue." Musically and concept-wise, this is one of my favorite songs, but the way in which the story is told is a total mess. Vessel begins by singing about his brother, who has a deep love for some woman.

But a couple stanzas in he ditches that idea to sing about his child and how she almost died, or at least I think it's about his child. He's addressing the song to a particular subject, but it isn't clear if he's singing to his child or about his child.

Later, he talks about taking her to a festival and giving her his hand. So at this point he's clearly talking about a love interest, but when the transition came between singing about his child and lover is pretty murky.

By the end, whoever he's singing about dies and then apparently never existed in the first place; he reveals he dreamed her up his mind. By this point I'm too confused trying to figure out who died and what happened to his kid and what the hell his brother had to do with anything. And I still never found out who he's addressing the song to!

Then you have "A Flower My Love Grows," which seems to have some difficulty wrapping its lyrics around the meter of the song in the first place. Then you have this awkward anti-Christian phrase juxtaposed in near the end which makes no sense and seems wildly out of place. Have a look:

"And I know why some folks like to dream of heaven
but I don't believe anything they claim
and all the Jesus freaks seem so obsolete
and for them I've nothing but my scorn and rage"

Slapped right in the middle of a song about enjoying the finer things in life. All my scorn and rage? The Jesus freaks are obsolete?  This is an album about peace, tranquility, and enjoying a baseball game on a summer day. Where on earth did this come from?

Tobymac does not approve, and neither do I.

And on the closing track, Vessel makes the outrageous claim that children are practically the only decent people on earth. Sorry Mother Teresa. Guess that excludes you.

Mother Teresa: Clearly a douchebag.

"Marianna's Peace" begins with a great melody, but there are several tempo changes that keep popping up which continually speed up and slow down the song, and it severely messes with the flow.  Potentially a really nice song that's marred by some questionable composition.

In all, this really isn't a terrible album. Despite its oddities, it does a commendable job of setting that planting seeds in your orchard with an old oil lamp by your side type of feel. And it packs some nice tunes.  

Forever the Moon won't be the greatest album you'll hear this year but if you're a fan of intimate, stripped back folk ala Fleet Foxes or Bon Iver, or if you're looking for something countryish without the overkill Nashville spitshine, you may find much to like here.

Score: 69/100

No comments: