Don’t let their ungainly name stop you. Gin, Chocolate & Bottle Rockets step smoothly and lightly through the 10 songs on their debut full-length album, Lean. The Madison, Wisconsin trio slip into that cool middle ground where folk, pop, and Americana overlap; imagine a rootsier Wilson Phillips and you’d be close to the sweetly emotive, sometimes sublime three-part harmonies from Beth Kille, Shawndell Marks, and Jen Farley.
The title track, “Lean,” boasts sunny harmonies that make it an earworm despite its use of the most painfully overused chord progression in the canon. “Shine” may be the most incisive track; after an intro capped with celestial harmonies, it takes a knowing perspective on the curse and blessing of being different: “When I was young they told me I needed fixing…They wanted to take away my darkness…I learned to make it shine…I learned to love it over time.” That’s good stuff. (Although there’s that tired chord progression again!)
“Flash Flood” is a dark country-blues that evokes Alannah Myles’ classic “Black Velvet.” “Stand Close to Me” and “This House” are perky folk gems. Gentle three-part harmonies polish the ethereal “Truth,” shine brightly in the country-esque “Choreographed,” and carry a satisfying fullness in the smartly chosen cover of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.”
I love that these songs with their fairly simple structures and easy stylistic categorization nonetheless don’t rely on facile lyrics and simplistic sentiments. They are well-conceived, grown-up songs that stick in your mind. The album is out now.