Enough people rave about a band, you start to think maybe you ought to check them out. Such is the case with Old Soul, a three-piece that put out a self-titled debut album this fall people can't seem to stop recommending.
Charlie Gaylord liked the band well enough that he'll shortly be re-releasing the album on his Cornmeal Records; more than one local scribe tabbed the disc as a top release for 2011.
It's a rangey and eclectic effort that's held together more by aesthetic than genre. Frontman and songwriter Mike O'Hehir has cultivated an indie-folk vibe not that different from Milkman's Union's Henry Jamison or Splendora Colt's Wesley Allen Hartley, able to do deep and thoughtful without going full-bore into outright catchy. His playing and that of bassist/backing vocalist Danielle Savage and drummer Brendan Shea (plus some horn and organ players) is almost universally subtle and understated. There aren't so much solos as repeated phrases. The vocals are breathy and light on their feet, if not downright whispered.
The accents provided by trumpet, sax, and more aren't unlike the flourishes that made the There Is No Sin album so great, though songs here on Old Soul get more involved than anything on that disc. "Caught on a Train" has a full-on, big-band R&B opening, then dials back most of that for the verse while keeping a crooning approach: "When the sun rises we'll open our eyes." The four on the floor beat for the bridge is a nice twist.
"Thick as Thieves" is almost a rock number thanks to Shea's charge-in (check his work on the Nice Place EP, too) before turning into something more like cabaret pop, with a catchy chorus and a trumpet that takes a lead role. That trumpet line can get a bit conflated with the vocals, though, as happens elsewhere when the vocals aren't mixed quite high enough. The songs can be hissy at times, too, and not in a way that lends a rustic feel.
You hear it right out of the gate on the laid back "Blackbird Calling," which features a delicate three-note electric guitar hook and Savage's charged-up bass in the turnaround. "People Are Talking" echoes Vetiver's last album, a waltz with heavily reverbed electric guitar and great "oooh-oooh" backing vocals from Savage. Her lead vocal turn on the middle verse of "Bottle of Secrets" is especially nice, too, closely mic'd just like O'Hehir's acoustic guitar, full of fingers squeaking as they slide up the strings.
The truly standout track is "Red & Gold," which brings in a banjo to accompany O'Hehir and Savage's harmonizing. Damn if it's not completely smooth in delivery, with languid horn lines and a splash of piano in the finish. Like most of the album, it gives off an impression of enjoyable effortlessness.
Listening to this record isn't all that hard either.
Sam Pfeifle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
OLD SOUL | Released by Old Soul | oldsoulmusic.bandcamp.com