Artist: The Head and the Heart
Album: The Head and the Heart
Release Date: Already released and now available at Sonic Boom
Rating (Skip, Stream, or Buy): Buy
When it comes to The Head and the Heart, don't make the same mistake I did: don't pass judgment on the Seattle alt-country band after listening to one, two, or even three songs. You'll end up with a short-sighted conclusion. You'll think their self-titled debut is just another Ryan Adams-influenced record, full of youthful worries, jangly tambourines, and pounded pianos--but it's not. It's much more than that.
Yes, there are veins of Adams' Heartbreaker here, and the male-female harmonies on "Honey Come Home," for example, echo Adams and Caitlin Cary's Whiskeytown vocals. But The Head and the Heart are far from derivative. These songs are surprisingly smart and self-aware. Both "Lost in My Mind" and "Down in the Valley," two of the album's finest tracks, express a longing for a troubled, blue-collar past that might better inform the storytelling of these folk-tinged songs. "I wish I were a slave to an age-old trade/ like riding around on railcars and working long days," sings Jon Russell on the opening lines to "Down in the Valley." And the musicians know how play their lyrics and instrumentals off of each other: "Honey Come Home" has heartbreaking words but it's a bouncy, cheerful track with sweet piano notes. Only the last few, quiet, acoustic bars of "Honey Come Home" betray the instrumentals and portray sadness.The Head and the Heart is an album that begs to be heard as whole; the songs belong to each other. It's a diverse album--each track feels markedly different from the last-- but it moves effortlessly. Take the first two songs as an example: the opening track "Cats and Dogs," is a perfect balance between ballad and rollicking country song. It has a definitive ending--the instrumentals all stop at once--but seems to flows into "Coeur D'Alene," the second track, after one breath. That's because the first few bars of "Coeur D'Alene," echo the last of "Cats and Dogs," almost like a call-and-response. A pounding piano finally pulls the songs apart.
There's an artfulness to this album, in both the lyrical themes and instrumental composition. As a debut LP, The Head and the Heart shouldn't be dismissed. It should be celebrated.