Saturday, September 14, 2013

Sputnik. Rising

Sputnik.  Rising.
Sound of the Sea, 2013.  Sputnik:

Pop-rock with a tinge of folk and jangle is what we have here, in the second release from this occasional band (their last release was nearly a decade ago).  The trio consists of all veteran performers.  Alan Grandy has been around the scene for decades, formerly with Terrible Parade and Jehovah’s Waitresses.  Jay Bentoff also worked with Jehovah’s Waitresses, and both he and Chris Solt have backed up Susan Weber.  It’s just one big happy family, but do happy families make good music?  In this case, yes.

Sounding a bit like the Byrds, a bit like R.E.M., and occasionally like Marc Bolan (Grandy sometimes seems to have a British accent), Sputnik provides us with eleven very fine songs, ten of which were penned by Grandy himself.  Curiously, it still all sounds like Cleveland.  Musically, they are tight and impeccably dressed.  The songs are well-structured and catchy, filled with hooks and intriguing lyrics, and may very well stick in your head like taffy.  The album starts off a bit shakily for me, though, with “Solstice Song.”  Grandy has a soft, fragile voice, one that can quaver and sometimes doesn’t sound ideal for certain kinds of songs.  He’s great in rougher songs, like “Boiling Over,” or when singing with others.  His voice is better suited to “Shine,” and “Keep Yr Heart at Home,” both slower tunes, but doesn’t seem up to “Dreaming Out Loud,” which is saved by some Moody Blues-like harmonies and excellent playing.  

Grandy puts his vocal qualities to greatest use when he moves into the higher registers, such as in “Last Man on Earth,” an eclectic piece with extended instrumental work and a slightly psychedelic atmosphere.  When he gets into falsetto he sounds fantastic.  This is my favorite tune on the album, and a real high point.  I also really liked “See Me Now,” where Grandy comes out strong, and does some fine guitar soloing in the bridge. Further down the road, the harmonies in “Angel” are exquisite.  “Midnight Rose” changes things up with a bit of country flavor in a Neil Young sort of way.  “Boiling Over” is the hardest rocker here, the only one that gets above mid-tempo, and is another strong point on the album.  In the last song, Grandy finds the right vocal register for a ballad-like tune, and makes it sound just right.

My few minor issues do not detract from what is otherwise a fine album.  But why the use of “yr?” It only saves a couple of letters.

Performers:  Alan Grandy (vocals, guitar), Chris Solt (drums, background vocals), Jay Bentoff (bass, background vocals).
Tracks:  Solstice Song, Shine, Dreaming Out Loud, Keep Yr Heart at Home, Last Man on Earth, Midnight Rose, Untitled 3, See Me Now, Angels, Boiling Over, Heaven is in Yr Heart.


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