I have a keen appreciation for a good press release. I’ve written several as part of my day job, I’ve penned a few for an upstart music PR company or two, and they’ve definitely been flooding my e-mail inbox for nearly a decade now. You have to tell a good story, get across the important details, and still find ways to pique the interest of the wide variety of folks who might actually read the damn thing. Like good micro-fiction, it’s both an art and a bit of science too.
So, when the one sheet for All Yours, the new record from Widowspeak on Captured Tracks, arrived for my perusal, I instantly connected with the tale of Robert Earl Thomas and Molly Hamilton leaving big city life for a quieter existence to the Catskill Mountains of New York. And it wasn’t because I too retreated to more rural surroundings, but because the album suddenly made much more sense to me.
You see, over the course of 10 chilled-out indie-folk songs, I couldn’t quite place my finger upon the Widowspeak’s personality. Sure, the duo crafted enjoyable shoegaze-meets-pop ditties in the vein of Cat Power, Mazzy Star, and Beach House, but the tunes didn’t stand out to me. Yet, upon reading about how they decamped for Upstate New York to work, go back to school, and just write music for fun, things started to coalesce in my ears.
I broke the sound into its component parts: Hamilton’s dusky, breathy alto; Thomas’ warbling alt-country-inflected guitar licks; and the taut minimalism of the rhythm section (represented by Jarvis Taveniere and Aaron Neveu of Woods). While Hamilton’s voice tends to carry the day and keep my interest the most, it’s Thomas’ intriguing melodic phrasing that allows the band to transcend its tendency to be another sleepy indie rock band.
Widowspeak is at its best when it strives for textures and influences beyond the confines of its preferred genres. On standout tracks like “Narrows,” “Dead Love (So Still),” “My Baby’s Gonna Carry On,” and “Hands,” I hear the mark of folks like Carole King, Natalie Prass, and late-period Wilco – not to mention the overall feel of ‘70s AM country.
Yet there are instances when the band slips into one-note territory. For example, “Stoned,” “Cosmically Aligned,” and “Coke Bottle Green” are far too similar to one another for my tastes. Sure, they’re pleasantly dreamy, but they’re also just kinda inoffensive – and that sort of blandness is a bigger turn-off to me than a band being flat-out terrible. It became relaxed and restrained out of habit, not because there was a specific focus behind the musical choices.
All Yours is a good record, but it could have been a really good one with a bit more oomph. And that’s not code for “play louder,” “be edgier,” or “be generally more upbeat.” It means I wish Widowspeak would have given me a bit more to grab onto sonically.
And yes, I dug the story from the press release about heading out to the woods, starting over, and focusing upon what’s important to Hamilton and Thomoas – that sort of pacing and aesthetic truly does come through on these tunes, and I applaud the couple for that. But I guess I wanted just a little more.
Despite all of the cliches you might have heard about the place, Adam P. Newton actually enjoys living in Texas – most of the time. He currently creates and curates content for a marketing agency, and in his limited free time, he writes a memoir about his journey through music called “Explaining Grownup Music to Kids.”