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Bellwether | Home Late (Rust Belt Records)
You know how it goes. You've been here before. You stare at the cover and think, maybe, 'yes'. You put the disc into the player and settle back. And, of course, you know how it goes. How the first song, creeping slowly on a bed of mandolins and brushed drums, takes you in. There's something about the singer's voice. A rich, lulling baritone that sounds just right. Just the kind of thing you like. Violins sweep in and out but you call them fiddles because that sounds better. And you almost think: here's an alt.country album that's actually worth giving a damn about. And you understand there's not many of those around these days. How rare it is. But, yes, you do know how it goes and, sad to say, it all goes downhill from here. What sounded so fresh, relaxed and easygoing on the first song, starts to pall and totter by the third. This is the way that paint dries. You're wondering whether any of the songs will display more than four basic chords, an alteration in mood or tempo. But they don't. And, if you like it, then that's fine because that's what you get. Forty minutes of unassuming, well-played Americana. But there's a hole at the centre. A gaping, yawn of an abyss. You start to sense it early on and by the closing strains of the last track you can't help but wonder where the promise went. And yes, Sugar Moon does sound like the unplugged Wilco you always wanted to hear. But the songs aren't there. And there's the hole, the gap, the great black yawn. Lyric-wise they could be talking about anything and probably are. Musically, the songs start of as slow, gentlyrolling countrifiedmelancholia and end as slow, gentlyrolling countrifiedmelancholia with very little structural or harmonic variation within each song or across the album as a whole. After the Power Pop leanings of the band's last album it came as a relief to hear that they'd forsaken that for something mellower and more studied but this restraint that's initially so refreshing quickly becomes mind-numbing and anodyne as if the album itself were bored and waiting for the last bus home. Okay, Betweenville adds some welcome textural relief with some nice female harmonies and singer Luoma's rich baritone occasionally raises a hair; and the song West End almost holds (and is the only song where the production at least tries to make it sound different) but really you're looking for something where there's not much to be found. Perhaps you'll like it. It certainly sounds good when you're not listening too carefully, in a crowd, or across a room, or faintly oozing from an open window and that's maybe what most people want from records these days. Otherwise, it's the aural equivalent of watching the recent Germany vs Paraguay game though, thankfully, it's only half as long.