For a band with such a fiery name, Yellow Roman Candles don't exactly blast from the speakers; nor are they likely to be your Fourth of July party-down accompaniment. They don't embody, either, the people Kerouac lauds as the "mad ones," in the quote from On the Road: "The ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars."
On Puppets, however, they do give off a certain heat, a steady passion delivered through an acoustic combination of guitar, piano, cello, fiddle, and even a bit of banjo in the album's stand-out "Tired Song," which is minor and meaningful, delivered by frontman/songwriter Aaron Morse with believable weariness: "The day has come/Just like you said it would."
It's hard not to find similarities with Iron & Wine throughout, though, and thus it suffers a little by comparison. Samuel Beam is as soulful and grave as they come. You just don't want to get into a breathy and whispered delivery contest with him.
Further, if you're going to get all up close and personal like that, you need to make sure everything is mixed perfectly. Here, the vocals and instruments at times just don't seem to be coming from the same place. In order for this to completely succeed, they have to seem almost one and the same, both an extension of the same heartbreak.
There is feeling to identify with here, though, and some pretty instrumental turns. The plucked strings in the open of "I Know" are nice staccato counterpoints to the reverbed violin that follows. There's a Celtic lilt to the title track. "Give Up" (I don't think that's a Postal Service reference) is an ode to high-register instrumentation, with twinkling guitar, piano, and violin all pleading with the listener.
There's a nice call-and-response there, too, with back-up singer Rachel Green, who weaves in and out of Morse throughout the disc. Her support in the "without you" portion of "Karma Truck" pushes the song over the top.
A few songs here need that kind of shove, because they're otherwise missing a certain spark, but on the whole there's a lot to listen for here, and the promise of a musical vision that could manifest itself in a very good album down the road.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at email@example.com.
PUPPETS | Released by Yellow Roman Candles | at Arootsakoostic, in New Sweden | July 9 | facebook.com/yellowromancandlesmusic