blue merle - burning in the sun

.:: This Nashville band may have lifted its name from the lyrics of a Led Zeppelin song but listeners expecting nine-minute guitar epics about medieval orgies and fiery demons are bound to be disappointed. Blue Merle favors a lighter touch, as sketched out on the wistful title track of its debut album, Burning In The Sun.

The jangly song evokes the Dave Matthews Band with its lilting fiddles and spiraling rhythms, while singer-songwriter Luke Reynolds sounds like a dead ringer for Coldplay's Chris Martin. Having played Bonnaroo, toured with Donovan Frankenreiter and recoded with Matthews producer Stephen Haris, the band seems destined to find a home with the Relix crowd. It would be a shame if it settled there. Rich, emotionally detailed songs like "If I Could" and "Stay" not only transcend genres, they're capable of changing lives.

Much like the Dave Matthews Band did with Under the Table and Dreaming a decade ago, Blue Merle has a chance to change the rules of pop music with the major debut, Burning in the Sun, and in the process possibly become one of the biggest pop-rock acts in the US.

The Nashville quartet has not surprisingly embraced their hometown’s acoustic palette, but unlike Nickel Creek and other newgrass purveyors, Blue Merle’s work comes all the way down from the mountain and plants its roots in suburban middle America. From the first twinkling mandolin on the opening title track, one can’t help but feel a twinge of guilt at hearing bluegrass instrumentation attached to such unabashed pop, but along with that guilt comes a sense that a new door is opening, and when the song’s vibrant fiddle blows a fresh wind through the room, all shame melts into easy contentment.

Luke Reynolds’ vocals throw another blanket on the familiar warmth of the band’s acoustic instrumentation, and much like Coldplay’s Chris Martin, his falsetto can turn the bland banality of a song like “If I Could” into an empathetic embrace. Reynolds takes a backseat to drummer William Ellis’s tricky rhythm on “Boxcar Racer,” a charmingly cartoonish tale of a pretty girl’s crush on a champion hobbyist, and Beau Stapleton’s mandolin leads the fast, winding trip down through the hollers and right into the suburbia at the foot of the hills.

The acoustic intro of “Stay” suggests that the band might just take the hike back up again, but the twang-free hook bounces too much for country, and the soft strings in the background put a shine on the song’s rustic roots. “Places” opens with an adolescent anthem’s heart-heavy, acoustic riff, and when the drums join in, it’s perfect, sweet-heart-on-sleeve, sing-along pop, with a finishing violin solo that’s a fitting goodnight kiss for the innocence of a perfect first date.

Stephen Harris’s exquisite production lends Burning in the Sun a polish without over-buffing it to a superficial shine. There’s an inherent richness that shows through the gleam of string quartets and mandolin rain showers. While the album is nothing truly original, just generic pop made novel again with new instrumentation, it is warm, comforting music, perfect for the bitter cold of February. Reynold’s subtly powerful vocals sympathize with the winter shut-ins, but the band’s bright, acoustic tone reminds us that summer is on the way, the hot sun beating down, and warm evenings spent on the amphitheater lawn with cool grass under bare feet.

download: blue merle - burning in the sun


shan chief said...

This makes getting up in the morning a pleasure.

indieground said...

yes, i agree.
happy, relaxed, folky music to start a new day.

thanx for the message, this makes running a blog a pleasure !!!

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