Previous Black Swan Lane releases, which feature Augusta musician John Kolbeck, his musical partner Jack Sobel and Mark Burgess of Chameleons UK, have largely been stylistic exercises, albums that liberally borrow the tone and timbre of classic '80s English rock. The result were interesting and entertaining tunes that also felt a bit like museum pieces.
The band returns this month with a new release, Things You Know and Love. And while there's still a lot of Manchester circa 1987 evident on the 13 tracks, it quickly becomes evident that a new element has been added to the Black Swan formula.
Earlier Swan songs registered as all atmosphere. The Things You Know tracks feel much more fully formed. There are verses and choruses, fully functioning bridges and, most significantly, good hard hooks.
The result is a record that feels like an important evolution for the band.
Earlier Black Swan albums functioned much better as a whole than a collection of single songs. Things You Know functions as both a whole and as a collection of songs. Tunes such as the opener, Leave Me Helpless , the jangling All I Love and the atmospheric Spin are dynamic gems, fully capable of standing on their own.
Perhaps because earlier Black Swan albums were recorded over extended periods of time, there was an unevenness in production quality. Sometimes the sound seemed muddy -- too dark for even the atmospheric timbre of the tunes. On Things You Know , the sound is brighter. It allows various elements of the arrangements -- a guitar part here, vocals there -- to grab the listener's attention.
All of the band's releases have been admirable, the product of a strong partnership with a clear vision of the music it wants to make.
It's a credit to all involved that, when continuing as before could have been acceptable, these seasoned musicians understand that real success is sound in evolution.
THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EARNEST
Last week, a Portland, Ore.-based singer-songwriter rolled into town with label mate Chip Robertson. There won't be many who remember this show because, quite frankly, attendance was sparse. Sky City might have hit double-digit attendance. Perhaps.
Still, those hardy few in attendance were treated to something special, a show that was not only entertaining and artful, but also refreshingly free of cynicism.
Music at its most effective is always honest. The very best examples are always about catharsis and emotional connection. Sure, there's a place for post-modern pop, music more about performance than making honest interpretation. Devo made a career out of it, and Of Montreal seems to have taken up the cause. But that should be the exception.
So it was interesting watching these two men: Robertson, who comes off like Lou Reed had he decided to chronicle the South rather than the Upper East Side, and Anderson, whose heartfelt, hard-strumming style is reminiscent of Woody Guthrie -- sans politics.
There was neither pretence nor any concern that the crowd beyond the footlights was minimal at best. Anderson said he understood when crowds were small. He's an artist working to establish himself, and it's difficult to attract an audience when you're an unknown quantity.
He also said he has no plans to change the way he operates. He seems to understand his most significant talent is connection and that, if anything, is what will attract his audiences.
I only hope he'll give Augusta another chance. We can use all the earnestness we can get.