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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