Louisville's Rumors have a love for the same Beatles-cum-Byrds jangly pop-rock that was fundamental to early R.E.M. But where Stipe & Co. put some bite into that sound, singer/multi-instrumentalist/primary songwriter Rob Marlin brings the teeth down gently: he prefers spaciousness, even in three-minute, radio-ready tracks. Like one of those purity laws that some jurisdictions apply to beer and wine, many of the twelve songs here are given a wide berth to breathe.
The results could've easily backfired straight into boredom. Fortunately, Marlin's voice has warmth to fill out the cautiousness in songs of love's sadness and other uncertain surroundings.
Surrounded by an ensemble of family and obviously close friends, he aces the short gems that earn a listener's patience - witness "No One Answers" and "Ms. Furman's Song," driven by flute and light keyboards, respectively. But it's only on the later tracks that some tension shows up in the playing. "23" speaks of yearning - and the electric guitar twists around to set up a grand mix of accordion and mandolin - but this track's relative success shows what there isn't enough of in many of The Rumors' recordings. At least, not yet.
The musicians are relaxed, and when needed the drums jump into soundswells that could bring a lot of life to lesser songs. But there's no lightning bolt here: the inspiration gets too easily contained into exercises in studio control. Hopefully, the band is just warming up and this collection is their way of paying apprentice's dues. "I'm 23, and I still haven't lived at all/I wanted so much more than fun," Marlin sings - and he makes the listener feel the same way. When he's lived a little more, he'll lead a helluva show. -T.E. Lyons
I discovered in the latest issue of the British magazine Uncut that the Silver Jews are considered to be part of the "alt-country" movement that is sweeping the music world. I couldn't help but wonder if that was what the main Silver Jew, David Berman, intended. This record steps out bravely despite the odd, new genre label.
Most fans of the Silver Jews are familiar with Berman's simple twangy drawl, which easily reels people in. Berman is unassisted by previous players that may have added to (or subtracted from) former releases (such as the mighty former Pavement tie-ins, Steven Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich), but is formidably backed by many others with delightful results (including the nearly overpowering female backup vocals in "Tennessee").
The lyrics are playful, something to re-read the liner notes for and enjoy piece by piece. Words of a persuasive, plaintive nature are spoken in "Tennessee" - "Her doorbell plays a bar of Stephen Foster, her sister never left, and look what it cost hermarry me, leave Kentucky and come to Tennessee." Even more irresistible is the tone of "Let's Not and Say We Did," which states "You can't be against forever, let's not and say we did." Berman has a way with words that sounds wise and well-versed in country living, but he's also capable of goofing around, which makes this record especially fun. -Claire Buxton