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Album review: Carswell & Hope - A Hunger





Album review: Carswell & Hope - A Hunger

(Photo by Taffyfoto)
 
OK. I've got to admit this up front. I'm not terribly fond of piano-dominated albums. Sure, I like Randy Newman, I like Jimmy Webb when he was recording for Reprise Records, yeah, I'm a sucker for Mose Allison, and I guiltily admit to loving Elton John's first five albums. But you have to understand; I'm a guitar guy. I cut my teeth and grew up with the sounds of electric guitars. I will say this: ever since Burt Bacharach left town, there haven't been many folks around here writing sophisticated pop songs like those he wrote with Hal David. The new Carswell & Hope album, A Hunger, is a lovely return to the sound and feel of those sort of compositions.
 
Impeccably produced and well played by Dan Hines on bass, Jason Sloat on drums, Nick Carswell on guitar and vocals, and Austin Quick on keyboards, this is not some wimpy piano/crooner stuff; the music here has muscle. The opening song, “Before,” sets the tone. It starts out sounding like a Swell Season outtake: voice and piano only, and then moves into different musical terrain as the song unwinds. No verse/chorus/verse thing here; the song moves spinning through moods, tempos, and lyrics in a way reminiscent of a pop overture.
 
What especially caught my ear as the album flows on is the care taken with each song to make the music just as interesting as the lyrics. Little touches like the understated solo piece three-fourths of the way through the jaunty “Drinking At Crossroads” where the music and mood go somewhere else, (much like The Beatles did with “Fool On The Hill,”) throw the listener a nice little curve. One would expect a long guitar solo at that spot, but the song begs to differ. In their bio the band doesn't cite Jimmy Webb as an influence, but I hear him in these cool little melodic inventions that are part of these songs.
 
Listen to how the album's centerpiece “The Owning” starts out hard and fast then just after the verses end with an “oh well oh well oh well, ” the band takes over and guitar and piano duel for several bars as Quick explodes piano notes around Carswell's guitar lines and the bass and drums lock in on a galloping groove. The song ends with an extended coda, once again changing the mood and tempo, with three stop-time parts and a vocal coda by Carswell to put the song to bed.
 
I'm a sucker for songs that flow organically and go places you don't expect. These songs are full of invention. The album was funded by a successful Indiegogo fundraiser campaign and released on the band's own label, Silly Goose Records. A Hunger is one of those albums you can listen to after a hard day's work, sitting out on the screened porch in the early evening with a libation of your choice chilling your hand as this music plays out. Carswell is a native of Ireland. I hope he sticks around these parts for awhile. This band needs to make more music. This is an audacious debut.

--Barry Lee

Barry is host of Signal To Noise, which airs on KKFI 90.1 FM every Sunday at 8 pm. He spends his weekdays being station manager of KKFI.
 
 

If you’re in Lawrence tonight, head out to Jackpot Music Hall to see Carswell & Hope. Vik G. Trio and Heidi Lynne Gluck will be opening. Gluck is featured on Carswell & Hope’s album, on additional vocals for “Hunger.” Facebook event page. 

 

 

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