It’s a rare occasion that I love every single song on a CD. Keane’s Hopes and Fears was probably the closest. Here’s a new keeper: Blue Merle’s Burning in the Sun. This Nashville band may have lifted its name from the lyrics in a Led Zeppelin song, but that’s where their commonalities start and end. Don’t expect twelve minute guitar riffs … as a matter of fact, don’t expect anything “expected”. Blue Merle’s debut album is a powerful mix of not one, but many different genres.
Not your usual rock band – not your standard stage. You won’t see the classic collection of electric guitars and basses. What you will see is mandolins, violins, an acoustic guitar and an upright bass. What you will hear defies any expectations; an eclectic mix that resonates with emotional intensity and lush orchestral arrangements.
Blue Merle came into existence when singer/songwriter/guitarist, Luke Reynolds met standup bassist Jason Oettel. They instantly connected and after only four months, they were offered their first production/publishing deal from the president of Sony Publishing. Reynolds and Oettel were completely stunned by the offer, but opted to work on forming a band; a path that would place them in the foreground of the music business rather than the background.
Mandolinist, Beau Stapleton was next to join the band followed by drummer, William Ellis. Opening for the likes of Badly Drawn Boy and Jem, plus appearances at Farm Aid and Bonnaroo, built up Merle’s fan base and caught the attention of reviewers and music moguls alike. With the help of producer, Stephen Harris (U2, Dave Matthews Band) the band released its debut album on the Island label in early 2005.
Not unlike the Dave Matthews Band, Blue Merle draws heavily upon stringed arrangements, such as in the album title “Burning In the Sun,” “Lucky To Know You” and “Made To Run.” All are rhythmically rooted in country and bluegrass notes and deliver a powerful punch. On a slower yet emotionally potent note, there is “Part of Your History,” “Every Ship Must Sail Away” and “Bittersweet Memory.” Between Reynolds’s wistful voice and poignant words, one can easily lose themselves in these ballads.
Venturing in yet another direction is “Either Way It Goes”; a Latin-infused melody that highlights Ellis’s ability to bring a samba beat into the mix. Adding a jazzy-bluesy inflection are “Boxcar Racer” and “Seeing Through You.” Again, there is an undeniable energy emanating from these songs. On a twangy note, Reynolds’ southern drawl translates charmingly in “Places”; an atypical tune about the typical life of a musician on the road.
All in all (without mentioning every track) this CD covers a vast musical range poetically and almost perfectly. Between the melodic allure of Luke Reynolds’ voice and the intricate arrangements of Stapleton, Oettel and Ellis, Blue Merle brings a new definition to rock songwriting … and Burning In The Sun is the proof. Let’s hope this is just the beginning for these incredibly innovative musicians.