Rustic Overtones: Light at the End

By: Trevor Pour

In the early part of the year, popular media was abuzzover a band that seemed doomed during the pop-rock band-crunch of the late '90s. The Rustic Overtones, a horn-driven rock septet from Portland, Maine roared back onto the scene with their album Light at the End (Velour). More specifically, that buzz revolved around one track, "Letter to the President." I'll get to the rest of the album later, but if you haven't heard this particular song, check it out. Co-writing the piece with Leonard Dillon, the Overtones created a poignant and poetic piece which intelligently and eloquently dissects and discusses the US involvement overseas from a soldier's perspective:

I joined the army like my father did and his father before
I saw army green and canvas look like perfect art of war
The images I see now aren't like ones I saw before
How am I a hero if I don't know what its for?

Days are getting longer, nights I never get to sleep
And I just had a newborn daughter that I hope I get to see
I've got bloodshed on my conscience, she's so innocent and free
I just killed some baby's father, better him instead of me...

This isn't angry music; It's respectful and thoughtful and one of the best "protest" songs in recent years - if you could honestly call it that. So, after the media hype toned down, it seemed reasonable to check out the rest of Light at the End, the album that will prove to re-introduce the Overtones to the 21st century.

The Overtones, for those who missed out on their exploits last decade, include Dave Gutter (vocals, guitar), Spencer Albee (keys), Dave Noyes (trombone), Ryan Zoidis of Lettuce fame (alto sax), Jason Ward (baritone sax), Jon Roods (bass) and Tony McNaboe (drums). The opener "Rock Like War" is a chameleon of sorts, changing styles at least three or four times in the span of five minutes. And despite a significant portion of the track sounding eerily like fellow '90s rockers Korn, the ensemble presentation is very good with a natural yet powerful flow. If the Overtones aimed to kick off with a proud display of both writing and playing ability, this was a fitting creation. "Troublesome" proves a bit overproduced for my ears, but is saved from overt pop by creative contributions from Zoidis, Ward and Noyes. Fans of slower ballads like Dave Matthews' "Lover Lay Down" will enjoy "Hardest Way Possible," a soft piece which remains infused with the Overtone's signature energy. And while "Carsick," "Carnival" and "Happy" are not standouts and even easily forgettable, they are sandwiched on the disc by "Oxygen" and title track, both very good productions reminiscent of pre-breakup Overtones. Both tracks include engaging vocals, dominant percussion from McNaboe and truly creative songwriting. Finally, the bizarre "Valentine's Day Massacre," which features the talented Imogen Heap, unfortunately comes across as a flop. Despite being the longest track on the disc, it does not fit. With discordant lead guitar, a chaotic backbeat, and eerie vocals, I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy the piece in the context of the whole album experience. That being said, I am glad the band took a risk like this. With the exception of "Letter to the President," the remainder of the album plays fairly close to home. The Overtones' willingness to attempt an unfamiliar and challenging piece is a promising sign of things to come. With repeated spins the track does gets better; I just don't think the collaboration worked as well as they had planned.

With Light at the End, the Rustic Overtones prove they're still capable of rocking, and rocking hard. But the second half of the album, despite quality songwriting and a fully charged horn regiment, falls a little short of expectations, and the album seems long at 42 minutes. Now I'm not about to call these guys the Rusty Overtones (sorry), yet I can virtually guarantee that they'll get better over the next few years as they gel again. In perspective, Light at the End is a valiant comeback album with one absolutely beautiful track, but it doesn't display the full quality the Overtones are fully capable. This is not meant as a negative review; it is merely hope and anticipation of something even better. If you're new to the Overtones, dig back in their catalogue and be sure to catch them on their next tour. And give at least the first half of Light at the End an honest listen.

JamBase | East Coast
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Comments

pdids starstarstarstar Fri 9/5/2008 09:42AM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

pdids

Glad to see Rustic getting a little love on JamBase. They've been rocking the northeast for quite some time but cant seem to break into the national spotlight. After years of label woes and a breakup, they're finally back to making music.

Is this a re-release of this CD? the one that came out originally didn't have Valentines Day Massacre on it as that song was on their Viva Nueva CD. If you want a real Overtones cd, check out Rooms By The Hour, the first and best in my opinion.

BJW240 starstarstar Fri 9/5/2008 10:43AM
+3 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

This is a re-release of Light at the End - the original had "Black Leather Bag" instead of Valentines Day Massacre, which was originally on the album Viva Nueva. (BLB is a much better song, btw). For those who are interested, they've started to rerelease all their old albums, which have been out of print for years. The only problem I have with this disc is the inclusion of "Hardest Way Possible", which has been on 3 of the five discs they've put out, which gets kinda old. Get out and see these guys if you get the chance - they are much better as a live band, and pack in a super high energy show.

RoyofCon Fri 9/5/2008 01:48PM
+2 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

great band, glad to see them on Jambase finally. Hopefully I will get to see them in Boston in a couple months

voodoochili12 starstarstarstarstar Sat 9/6/2008 10:16AM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

yay maine!

Jeff Kash Sat 9/6/2008 12:07PM
+1 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Jeff Kash

yayo!

Mobydickulous starstarstarstar Sat 9/6/2008 08:06PM
0 Votes Thumbs down! Thumbs up!

Great to see some love for Rustic on Jambase. Rustic should really be seen to be appreciated. For folks looking for the full story and latest news on RO check the forum at Rocklikewar.com.