Gwyneth Moreland and Michael Monko leave the mountains for the foothills on their debut. Unlike on their EP, they mix blues, rock and pop influences with traditional country. Some dream-pop moans and psych-rock solos make for a distinctly different album. Yet by changing their formula so early, they may have diluted their strengths.
Their first recording, Good Old Horse, returned country music to the country with all acoustic instruments and no drums. Monko poured enough notes from his mandolin to make it seem as cool to play as a guitar.
The new album features more instruments, including electric guitar, bass, drums and, occasionally, dobro, pedal steel guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle. The music strays more typical with melodies limited to flourishes in between lyrics.
You can find good performances on here. Check out the lengthy solo for “Get in the Sun” and the scorching, but way-too-short one for “Liar.” The album opens strong with “Found in Benson,” a song about taking time to relax on tour. The melodic backbone puts the spotlight on the music. Gwyneth’s little exhale at the end finishes the lyrics off perfectly.
Most of the new songs, however, don’t hook you as much compared to the ones on the EP. Moreland’s lyrics don’t always match up with her pleasingly fragile, but tough voice. Songs like “Hand in the Fire” and “Liar” use too many clichés and references, lessening their emotional impact. Why the duo decided to put a song about tuberculosis near the beginning is a good question. Consequently, this mid-tempo album feels even slower and more tedious. It perks up towards the end, though, with the more cheerful “Can’t Stay Long” and “The Song of Robin Redbreast.”
But then it stumbles, ending with an alternate version of “Pine Box Sailor,” originally off Gwyneth’s solo album, Wishbone. Certainly, an insanely scratchy wax-cylinder recording fits better as a B-side?