The CD starts off gently with a slow acoustic waltz and Nels’ vocal, which is smooth with a touch of whiskey. Colour is added by brushed drums and an almost ethereal pedal steel guitar. The next track, “Starboard”, has an acoustic feel, with Nels’ smooth vocal, brushed drums and heavily reverbed pedal steel. “Barroom Bards” has an acoustic…you get the picture.
And therein lies the problem. All the songs are so similar in feel and tone that they become difficult to differentiate, although the instrumentation may change slightly between numbers. After a while, a kind of depressing aural fatigue sets in. The whole album is so laid back it has a lulling effect and any one song would make a beautiful ballad on a more rounded album, but as a single CD with nothing but slow ayres it just adds up to one long, yawning, dirge of a record.
On the upside, the imagery can be quite striking but, even then, the lyrics suffer from ‘one trick pony’ syndrome as the songs meld together so that any pictures which do get painted are confused to the extent that you can’t tell whither “Barroom Bards” make ‘pigeons coo’, or “Small Victories” are won by ‘accordions hung in cages’. The metaphors and symallies are laid on so thick that is impossible to work out what, if anything, Nels is actually trying to say. Imagine the Mona Lisa painted using a trowel.
I’m genuinely not sure how to conclude this review; the tracks are well produced and the songs, taken individually, have fragile qualities which are quite beautiful. However, taken as a whole 43minutes worth, the CD is… boring.