Springsteen’s Western Stars Is a Soaring Masterpiece

Put simply Western Stars is yet another example of why Bruce Springsteen is known as The Boss.

Bruce Springsteen is an undeniable legend of rock and roll from Long Branch, New Jersey. His reputation precedes him as one of the greatest songwriters of all time and the man who carried the blue collar Americana style through the 1980’s when the majority of rock music had turned toward a cocaine fueled, long haired style of metal which didn’t carry nearly the lyrical substance of the earlier days of the genre. Springsteen found breakthrough success in 1975 with his third LP, Born to Run and landed his first number one with 1980’s double album, The River. In total, The Boss has now released 19 studio albums nine of which have peaked at number one and 15 of which have gone platinum or better. As he approaches his 70’s, he shows no signs of slowing down, dropping his newest record, Western Stars over the weekend.

From the first moments of the album, it becomes abundantly clear that Springsteen’s ear for melody is still absolutely in tact. Cuts like the opener, “Hitch Hiker,” and “Tucson Train,” feature fantastic hooks and instrumental passages that are absolutely infectious. It’s nothing short of astounding that, after a nearly fifty year career, the boss can still write a melody that feels fresh and sticks in the mind, but he does it over and over again on this album.

Beyond this, the lyrics on this project are also quite impressive. He makes quite an effort here to tell very unique stories and, for the most part, he succeeds. The title track follows an aging actor as he longs for his younger days and meets with fans everywhere he goes, also playing cleverly with the title of the track and album as referring to both the night sky in the West and the main character on the track who once stared in Western films. “Somewhere North of Nashville,” is also excellent, examining the cost of pouring one’s heart and soul into a song and the feeling of loneliness that comes with its success.

In terms of his vocal performance, Bruce’s age does show, but he uses the gruff tone to his advantage. His voice has always been rather strained, but on the softer cuts like the closer, “Moonlight Motel,” there’s a soft tenderness that has rarely been seen in his earlier work. He also brings extraordinary power to perhaps my favorite track on the album, “There Goes My Miracle.”

Despite all this hard work from the boss, the record’s true highlight comes in the instrumentation. This begins with a daring variety of chord progressions which pop up all over the tracklist. Songs like “Drive Fast,” and “Sundown,” while genuinely enjoyable in their own rights, stand out all the more thanks to surprising and dynamic chord changes that keep a listener guessing throughout.

Additionally, there are a handful of interesting percussion choices that are made on some of the more upbeat tracks. “Sleepy Joe’s Cafe,” which is essentially a throwback to Springsteen’s 80’s prime, has an almost tropical feel while a later song like “Hello Sunshine,” benefits from a less noticeable but still well performed and mixed drum kit.

Without a doubt, however, this album lives and dies by the simply tremendous instrumental pallet which graces every single cut. A few of my favorites include the bombastic horn section on “Wayfarer,” and the heartbreaking strings on “Chasin’ Wild Horses,” but nearly every track is driven by a massive collection of instruments, each with fascinating melodies to follow.

It seems obvious that Western Stars’ purpose is to borrow sentimentally from the sweeping, orchestral soundtracks of American Westerns and golden age country music, and to that end, it succeeds in nearly every way possible. Each song is a new adventure and the fifty minute runtime flies by fast enough to leave you wanting more. It’s one of my favorite Springsteen projects, not only in recent years, but of all time.

Put simply Western Stars is yet another example of why Bruce Springsteen is known as The Boss.

9/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

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Andrew Bird’s 12th LP is a Listenable Piece of Folk Rock

My Finest Work Yet is a moderately enjoyable album that could’ve benefitted from having a few more cooks in the kitchen.

Andrew Bird is an indie-rock vocalist and multi-instrumentalist from Lake Forest, Illinois. He debuted as a solo artist with 2003’s Weather Systems, after leaving the band Bowl of Fire, with whom he’d spent most of the mid to late 90’s. His early work found some following, particularly with fans of the band, but after signing with Fat Possum Records, he dropped 2007’s Armchair Apochrypha, his first solo effort to chart on the Billboard 200.  He went on top the US Folk charts twice, first with 2012’s Break It Yourself, and again with 2016’s Are You Serious. With a long career which winds through a multitude of styles, labels, and albums, Bird has become a favorite of folk-rock fans thanks to a consistent output and creative style. This week, he’s released his 12th album, ambitiously titled My Finest Work Yet.

Immediately, Bird’s experience as a songwriter is obvious in the many unique chord progressions he uses. Tracks like the opener, “Sisyphus,” and the album’s strongest cut, “Proxy War,” are fairly unpredictable and the inventive progressions allow for a few unique vocal melodies as well. It’s easily the strongest point of Bird’s songwriting on this album.

Vocally, he’s quite strong as well. On “Olympians,” he seamlessly transitions from driving, simple verses to large howling choruses, executing each with quite a bit of power and support. With “Archipelago,” on the other hand, he sells a relatively run-of-the-mill track with a dynamic mix of sweet falsettos a riveting strength. Andrew has never been renowned as a particularly remarkable vocalist, but for the majority of this albums he gives quite strong performances that elevate even the less impressive songs.

Maybe the strongest piece of this puzzle, however, is his skill as an instrumentalist. He is best known as a strong violinist, and he exhibits this many times on the record, including an excellent solo on “Don the Struggle,” which leaves me wishing each track had contained such a solo. He’s also noted, in the album’s credits, for his whistling, which is admittedly fantastic! On “Manifest,” for example, he whistles an excellent melody which adds quite a bit to the track.

On the subject of lyrics, unfortunately, My Finest Work Yet stands on shaky ground. There are wonderful moments like early cut, “Bloodless,” which draws much inspiration from the Spanish Civil War in 1936. On the other hand, there’s a handful of pretentious and overall meaningless lyrics all over the album. “Cracking Codes,” and the closer, “Bellevue Bridge Club,” are the worst offenders on this front, packed full of words which say very little.

Another complaint which has dogged this LP since the release of its first singles is just how far out on his sleeve Andrew wears his influences. “Sisyphus,” though enjoyable, could sneak perfectly into any Father John Misty album, which “Olympians,” pulls heavily from early Springsteen efforts. Additionally, “Archipelago,” and “Proxy War,” bare striking resemblance to the work of the Beatles. It isn’t so egregious as to make these tracks unlistenable, and if Andrew were a younger songwriter, I could easily forgive this, but at this stage in his career, it’s frustrating to hear such lack of originality.

The worst offense, without a doubt, is the production, which Bird did himself. Nearly every one of the 10 songs is muddy, lifeless, and flat. Additionally, he seems to have no care for the different tones needed for each track. “Bloodless,” for example, is billed as some mysterious jazz piece, but the instruments are so brightly mixed that all intrigue is gone. The album’s worst track, “Fallorun,” is a jumbled mess which is made infinitely worse by the way each instrument bleeds into one another. This record would have benefitted from a more expert touch behind the board.

Ultimately, My Finest Work Yet is certainly enjoyable. For fans of the growing folk-rock movement, this is a fine listen to hold you over until the next Father John Misty or Fleet Foxes release, but it could’ve been much more. Andrew’s songwriting and instrumental abilities set this album up with a ton of potential, but poor production, a lack of originality, and a very mixed bag of lyrics hold it back.

My Finest Work Yet is a moderately enjoyable album that could’ve benefitted from having a few more cooks in the kitchen.

5/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Todd Snider’s New LP is a Masterclass In Folk Music

With excellent songwriting, simple production, and heartfelt performances, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 is one of the best folk albums of this decade, and a treat for fans of Snider or the larger Americana movement as a whole.

Todd Snider is an Americana singer/songwriter from Portland, Oregon.He debuted in 1994 with Songs for the Daily Planet. In total, he’s released 16 albums, not including compilations and special editions, each finding varying levels of success, particularly among Americana fans. Perhaps his best accomplishments are his two live albums, Near Truths and Hotel Rooms and The Storyteller. He’s at his best on these projects as his intimate sound isn’t interrupted by poor production and over-instrumentation. This was a problem, especially in his early years, as the apparatus just didn’t exist to find a producer who could do the Americana and folk sounds justice. Today, however, we’re experiencing a boom in the sub-genre and a multitude of producers committed to the sound. For this, his 16th album, Todd has partnered with the great John Carter Cash for his best studio effort to date, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3.

Perhaps the most surprising change of pace on this LP is the renewed focus on Todd’s acoustic guitar prowess. Tracks like the album’s highlight, “Like a Force of Nature,” and “Just Like Overnight,” the sparse production and arrangement leave nothing but space for Snider to fill with complicated and melodic folk riffs, which were played on the Martin guitar of the late Johnny Cash. He’s very rarely content with simple chords, and instead picks each note with intention and a strong ear that makes every cut infinitely better.

Much less surprising, however, is Snider’s razor sharp wit and penchant for quick, yet hilarious one-liners. On a song like “Talking Reality Television Blues,” he crafts a long winded critique of modern culture, beginning with the invention of radio and culminating in the election of a reality television star to The White House. “The Blues on Banjo,” on the other hand, feels like a random riff on the insanity of the world, not to mention acting as a comedic turn on the kind of simple, one-take recordings that brought early blues stars like Robert Johnson to fame. “A Timeless Response to Current Events,” closes the album as a hilarious, wordy talk blues number that mocks the formalities of government proceedings. None of these tracks are necessarily sharp-tongued, but they’ll make virtually all listeners laugh, and that’s the goal.

Aside from jokes, there are also a few genuinely impressive lyrical moments on this record. The opener, “Working on a Song,” perfectly captures the life a song inside the mind of a writer, including both the comical frustrations of feeling it so near to being finished and the heartfelt connection a writer feels to his craft. “The Ghost of Johnny Cash,” appears later on the record and it is at once haunting yet beautiful. Todd celebrates the icons of the genre with the tail of Loretta Lynn meeting the ghostly form of the late Johnny Cash for a dance in the rain.

Todd has a trend on this record of writing specific stories about figures in music history. “Cowboy Jack Clement’s Waltz,” tells the story of its namesake, a very important producer and friend of the late Johnny Cash, mainly cobbled together from stories told to him by John Carter Cash. “Watering Flowers in the Rain,” as its preceding explanation says, tells the story of a longtime roady for Elvis Presley and the frustration he felt at never taking the spotlight himself. These are some of the most interesting tracks on the album and they’re aided heavily by the spoken sections that lead into them.

Another strong addition to Snider’s arsenal is a fantastically well-played harmonica. It’s perhaps most notable on a track like “Framed,” but it’s an ever-present element of virtually the entire album. His ear for melody is, of course, the driving force behind the harmonica’s effectiveness, but the sharp and almost abrasive tone which is allowed to remain in the final mix without overly softening the edges.

Todd Snider said that recording this album was a result of a recurring dream in which Johnny Cash himself would wake him up from his resting place on the floor in the center of the Cash Cabin Studio, which is incidentally the site where Cash passed away. When Todd opened his eyes, Cash would point to the engineers booth and say “you’re missing it.” And so, Snider set out to make an album at the studio which would make The Man in Black Proud and I think he succeeded.

With excellent songwriting, simple production, and heartfelt performances, Cash Cabin Sessions, Vol. 3 is one of the best folk albums of this decade, and a treat for fans of Snider or the larger Americana movement as a whole.

9/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Sun Kil Moon Returns With Much Stronger LP

I Also Want to Die in New Orleans is neither the most accessible, nor the most daring project thus far in 2019, but it certainly a welcome addition to the Sun Kil Moon catalogue.

Sun Kil Moon is a folk rock artist from San Francisco, California. Originating as a continuation of the defunct indie rock band, Red House Painters and sporting a long list of past members, Sun Kil Moon is now the primary moniker of Mark Kozelek, the group’s original lead singer. He’s amassed quite a discography over the past fifteen years, never reaching meaningful commercial success, but becoming a certified critical darling thanks to multiple excellent reviews. His latest record, This is My Dinner, held a few interesting ideas, but was ultimately bloated and often boring.

The album opens with “Coyote,” and immediately we have a strong improvement from the previous record. The instrumentation is sparse and only loosely conforms to any type of rhythm, and it’s aided by a reedy, humming woodwind that brings the moody undertones to a head. Kozelek’s vocals are also fairly impressive, especially the doubled harmonies on what could vaguely be called a chorus. Lyrically, this isn’t the most impressive cut on the record, but there’s quite a bit of solid comedy and it’s certainly a step up from the at times unbearably boring writing on This is My Dinner.

“A Day in America,” follows, the second longest and easily one of the strongest tracks on the record. While the instrumental and production are relatively simple, the lyrics bring this song to a new level. Using his trademark, stream of consciousness style, Mark rambles descriptively through his experiences on the day he learned of the recent Parkland Massacre in Florida. True to form, he rarely stays on topic, devoting large amounts of time to a petty argument with his band, but this works to his advantage here as he says more by rambling off topic acting as a commentary on the tendency of American’s to brush these events aside. It’s a simply brilliant piece of storytelling.

“L-48,” is the third and shortest track, an yet, in many ways, it’s the least focussed. The lyrics seem to have very little to say, and while they may perk the ears of long time Sun Kil Moon fans, they leave a casual listener like myself a bit bored. The instrumental on the other hand, is quite fascinating. Extremely simplistic in presentation, the track presents a multitude of concise melodies with strong focus. The drumming peaks in and out, and the track often feels just one beat from completely falling apart, teetering on the edge of incoherence, and yet consistently intriguing. It doesn’t make up for the weaker lyrics, but it’s an enjoyable piece nonetheless.

“Cows,” on the other hand, returns the record to a fuller sound, largely to its detriment. The melody is much less clear on this track and the drumming is somewhat boring. Lyrically, however, “Cows,” proves impressively capable of holding a listeners attention for the substantial runtime. Using cows as an anchor point for both his rural youth and his philosophical readings, Mark gives us an interesting peak into his psyche and even smuggles in a few profound ideas.

“I’m Not Laughing at You,” kicks off the hefty second half of the LP. It benefits, musically, from the addition of a strong horn section and some excellently spacey production. This is also one of the more interesting storylines as Mark uses a tale of misunderstandings and embarrassing moments while on travels in foreign countries to examine America’s status among the rest of the world, mocking our excess and ignorance, while lauding the many great contributions the US has made, particularly in the realm of songwriting.

“Couch Potato,” is yet another strong entry and maybe the most fun cut on the tracklist. The looping guitar and energetic rock beat is reminiscent of a classic 1970’s pop-rock, but lyrically, it’s quite biting. In it, Sun Kil Moon lambasts the left leaning majority in the US for their silence and lack of concern for immigrants under previous presidents. He goes on to predict a reelection of Donald Trump, should the majority of voters continue to accept the status quo as it is.

“Bay of Kotor,” closes the album with a daunting 20 minutes all to itself, and it uses its time well. Easily the strongest track on the album, Sun Kil Moon tells a sprawling story of a rather tame but interesting night in San Francisco. He touches on his love for animals, his inability to connect with women who hit on him, and a series of unique interactions with a hotel waitress from the area. 

All said, this is a large step up for Sun Kil Moon. The instrumentation has quite a bit of character and the lyrics, though at times meandering, are often fascinating and creative.

I Also Want to Die in New Orleans is neither the most accessible, nor the most daring project thus far in 2019, but it certainly a welcome addition to the Sun Kil Moon catalogue.

6/10

AMAZON LINK: https://amzn.to/2UbiiiB

Hozier Is Back With a Perfect Sophomore Album

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen.

Hozier is an indie/blues rock artist from Bray, Ireland. He debuted in 2013 with the Take Me to Church EP, the title track of which is still his most successful song to date, certified eight times platinum in the US alone. After the massive success, he went on to drop the From Eden EP, which was equally well received and left expectations sky high for an upcoming LP. His 2014 self-titled album debut certainly didn’t disappoint, featuring represses of much of the previous two releases while adding a few fantastic new cuts. The album went double platinum in the US and six times platinum in his home country of Ireland, spawning a large tour and and netting multiple awards. Fans were left clamoring for more but were largely met with silence until the release of the Nina Cried Power EP in late 2018. Now, just a few months later, we finally have a sophomore effort from the indie rock troubadour and it absolutely does not disappoint.

Wasteland, Baby! May be a bit jarring to fans of the debut, as was the preceding EP, as Hozier has returned with a wide array of new styles and effects, and a renewed focus on the instrumental side of his music which just didn’t exist before. This is made obvious in the baselines of the very opening track, “Nina Cried Power,” in addition to “No Plan,” a few cuts later. The bass guitar works extremely hard across this record, constantly moving with purpose and played with skill.

This is also extremely noticeable in the massive instrumental pallet of this album. The violins on “As It Was” lend a gravitas to an already fantastic, folk-inspired song, while the organ  work on “Be,” and across the majority of the latter half of the record is a wonderful touch. While the first album seemed a bit more consistent in terms of tone, I much prefer the expansive pallet and exciting nature of Wasteland, Baby!

Without a doubt, however, the most noticeable change is a massive focus on percussion on nearly every track. While a song like “Movement,” or “Sunlight,” is perhaps a bit more noticeable, it’s clear that Hozier put serious time and effort into each piece of the percussion on this album and it absolutely pays off. Never once do we hear a nondescript rock beat but in stead a minimalistic but effective collections of dynamic sounds keeping the rhythm.

All this being said, the best qualities of the album are still, by far, the elements we’ve come to expect and appreciate from Hozier’s work. The guitar work is wonderful. From the rolling, picked acoustic of “To Noise Making,” to the earworm riffs of tracks like “Talk,” and “Dinner & Diatribes.” His guitar is at the center of nearly every track and that’s never a bad thing.

The lyrics on this album are nothing short of poetry. “Almost,” is a wonderfully fun tribute to love and music using several lyrics from timeless the jazz standards of acts like Sinatra and Jelly Roll Morton. “Shrike,” on the other hand is breathtaking ode to a love lost using nature as a perfect metaphor. It’s also the best track on the album and one of the best tracks I’ve heard in a very long time. The closer and title track uses powerful apocalyptic imagery to describe the act of falling in love in yet another stroke of brilliance. Genuinely every track on this album stems from a wonderful lyrical idea and executed nearly perfectly.

The absolute, undeniable highlight on this album, however, comes in Hozier’s vocals. Whether it’s the Motown and soul inspired sound of a track like “Nobody,” or the booming, blues rock of “Would That I,” or any of the other 12 cuts on this album, Hozier’s voice is a constant presence. It’s soft and contemplative when it needs to be, and smoothly powerful at the perfect moments, and it is, overall, an absolute Iron Man effort from an incredible talent.

As this album wraps up, I’m struck by what a fantastic experience it was. The pacing is near perfect, never leaving me bored over a nearly hour long runtime, every song feels essential and unique, and every risk taken on the album pays off in full. Even the singles I didn’t love in the lead up have found a comfortable home on this record and have become some of my favorite cuts. The massive accomplishment that is this LP becomes even more incredible when you realize that each and every track is written, largely performed, and produced by Hozier himself.

Wasteland, Baby! Is an infectious passion project from one of the brightest minds in music today which slowly sucks you in further and further in with each listen. It’s an instant classic and it’s the second album in Brendon’s Beats history to receive a perfect score.

10/10

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Henry Jamison’s Sophomore Effort is Lyrically Strong but Musically Weak

Gloria Duplex is extremely well written, but a lack of care on the instrumental and production side leaves it feeling like just a catchy poetry collection and robs it of enormous potential.

Henry Jamison is a folk singer songwriter from Vermont. Jamison comes from a very long line of storytellers, his father a successful classical composer and his mother an English Professor. Even further back, his lineage can be traced to people like George Fredrick Root, the successful Civil War Era songwriter. It’s a family tree of which Henry is rightfully proud, and he considers himself yet another in this long line of story tellers. He debuted with his breakout EP, The Rains in 2016, but really hit his stride with 2017’s The Wilds.

His blend of acoustic instrumentation and vivid lyricism is not uncommon in the folk world, though Jamison is especially good at it. The Wilds touches on several interesting topics and his brand of visual lyrics brings these ideas to life with a pleasing sound. Though his songwriting is excellent, his melodies and instrumentation tends to suffer from a lack of attention which is mostly given to the lyrics. Because of this, his earlier work strikes something of a niche market of lyrically focused folk fans and lacks some of the wide-ranging appeal that can be found in the best of the genre. With Gloria Duplex, however, he aims to rectify this while continuing to build on what made his earlier work great. For the most part, he succeeds.

First and foremost, Henry’s lyricism is still the key focus for his music, and for good reason. Tracks like “Boys,” and “Ether Garden,” tell fantastic stories with clever turns of phrase and some beautiful, descriptive poetry. This is, by far, the highlight of what the album does and for lyrically focussed folk fans, this an excellent project.

His vocals, while not overly impressive, get the job done just fine for a folk record. The closer, “Darkly,” actually features a very emotive performance and some strong harmonies and “Reading Days,” is decorated with a few thoughtful melodies. The majority of his vocals are just well done enough so as not to be distracting, but he does show a few hints of putting more effort into these leads.

Additionally, there are moments of strong production here and there. The vocal effects on the “Beauty Sleep,” interview, for example, is exciting and creative and the atmospheric decorations of “True North,” add a lot to an otherwise uneventful track

There’s even the stray moment of instrumental brilliance. The warm violins on the album’s best track, “Florence Nightingale,” the playful guitar of “The Magic Lantern,” or the unique chord progression of “Stars,” are proof that Jamison has the ability to arrange some excellent instrumentation when he puts in the effort. Unfortunately, it’s also in here where I find the majority of my complaints.

A large portion of this album is drug down by cheesy and uninventive instrumentals. The very cliched guitars of the opener, “Gloria,” set the record off on a bad note that it struggles to recover from until a strong run in the middle. In the final third, however, we’re thrown into the weakest track on the album, “American Babes,” which sounds like a stock folk track completely buries its admittedly strong lyrics. This leads us straight onto “In March,” which, while a bit more daring, never seems to bring any of the ideas it contains to any kind of satisfying fruition. Aside from a few notable exceptions, nearly all of this album suffers from this same weak link and isn’t helped by fairly run-of-the-mill mixing.

All in all, this is a solid sophomore effort. Henry’s poetic writing style will be a hit with a lot of folk fans, as it should be. He clearly puts a lot of time and effort into his lyricism. One can only wish, however, that he put the same time and care into the other facets of his music, namely the instrumentation and production.

  Gloria Duplex is extremely well written, but a lack of care on the instrumental and production side leaves it feeling like just a catchy poetry collection and robs it of enormous potential.

5/10

Mumford and Sons Branch Out With Fourth LP

Delta isn’t the best album of the year, it isn’t even the best album in the growing Mumford and Sons catalog, but it is a powerful and decisive step from a once niche band toward branching out and finding new footing. For that, it deserves respect.

     Mumford and Sons is a folk/indie rock act from London. They burst onto the underground scene in 2009, at the hight of the hipster movement, with their debut LP, Sigh No More. The record has since sold more than five million copies and is absolutely essential to understanding the musical landscape of this decade. Their follow up, 2012’s Babel charted at number one in the US and catapulted Mumford into super stardom, birthing the trend of Irish-Irish-inspired folk which would include the likes of Ed Sheeran and Phillip Phillips. 2015’s Wilder Mind was a bit of a misstep, though it still went platinum, seeing the group add a drummer and experiment with truer rock influences.

   Mumford and Sons’ sound has evolved over the years, but a few tendencies remain constant. There are thick, obvious ties to Irish folk music throughout, particularly in indulgent harmonies and driving time signatures. They also sport a unique instrumental pallet which includes a banjo, upright bass, and the occasional mandolin or pair of spoons. Their latest release flirted with blues and rock and roll, but with Delta, Mumford seems to have found a new home in the world of arena rock.

   Let it not go without mentioning, though, how sharp the band’s folk roots are in cutting through the spacious instrumentals. The opener, “42” features a gorgeous set of harmonies throughout, and “Beloved,” is driven by a heavily effected banjo. It’s here that longtime Mumford fans will find enjoyment. I myself could feel the high school freshmen in me soaking in every second, but this album doesn’t stop here.

   Tracks like the lead single, “Guiding Light” and “Woman,” dive headlong into the stadium rock aesthetic which is meant to characterize this project. The reverb-heavy mix, looping guitars, and catchy hooks make for a fun foray into this new territory, which will likely leave something to enjoy for fans and casual listeners alike.

   This album is most effective, however, in its final third as the group crafts a long string of intimate but singable tracks to close out the rather long runtime. “If I Say,” and “Wild Heart,” are genuinely quite moving, “Forever,” is a strong piano ballad, even the very experimental “Darkness Visible,” is unique and intriguing, and though the closing title track leaves a bit to be desired in the creativity department, Marcus Mumford’s lead vocals make it infinitely listenable.

   This brings us to Delta’s most noticeable quality, that being Marcus’ excellent effort on every second of the album. Both lyrically and vocally, the band’s frontman is perfectly on his game at all times. Tracks like “Slip Away,” and “Rose of Sharon,” which fall in the middle of the record and feature the weakest instrumentals of the bunch, are more than rescued Mumford’s total commitment and heartfelt delivery. On the other hand, an already well made track like “The Wild,” is made all the better by his touch as the centerpiece.

   The best song on the record, by a mile, is “October Skies,” which is able to sum up the best parts of Delta without falling victim to any of its shortcomings. The organic instrumentation and howling vocals are perfectly evocative of vintage Mumford, yet the drum kit adds an enjoyable groove. Beyond this, the track is beautifully produced, as is much of this album, building a cozy sonic space upon which to view closely the stark beauty of the louder, more powerful moments. The choir, as with the wide pallet on the project as a whole, is simply a brilliant touch.

   This album isn’t perfect. Several of the anthemic staples the band touches on feel somewhat stale and done to death, and you’ll find more than a fair share of cliched lyricism. However, it’s a step that is much appreciated. There is a clear and palpable passion that comes along with this album and it is hard to deny, especially when the wide pallet, good production, and talented performances gel smoothly.

   Delta isn’t the best album of the year, it isn’t even the best album in the growing Mumford and Sons catalog, but it is a powerful and decisive step from a once niche band toward branching out and finding new footing. For that, it deserves respect.

6/10

HEAR DELTA:  HTTPS://OPEN.SPOTIFY.COM/ALBUM/3THBKS5IJZ41MABAOAT7WC