Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Blue Giant: Blue Giant

Blue Giant
Blue Giant
Rating: 2.5/5.0
Label: Vanguard Records

Blue Giant is a lot like a fairly respectable record store that plays pretty decent music that can be tolerated for about 30 minutes, before the charm of hearing songs that all sound innocuously familiar and ingrained in the past begin to grate on the nerves. Though this is a debut full-length release, it's not the work of beginners, as the band was founded by Anita and Kevin Robinson (Viva Voce) and Seth Lorinczi (the Golden Bears), with ex-members Chris Funk (the Decemberists) and Evan Railton (Swords), a solid pedigree that makes Blue Giant's underwhelming execution all the more surprising. With a few notable exceptions, the album feels like five musicians doing little more than mimicking the folk, country, bluegrass and 1970s classic rock - and all the negative connotations that last genre carries with it - to which the album is indebted.

Those few exceptions show the album could have fared much better. Anita Robinson sings a couple genuine weepers that are every bit as countrified as Patsy Cline, Loretta Lynn or even Lucinda Williams; on "Lonely Girl," the singer tells the familiar story of a woman "thinking about that lucky break" that just might get her the hell out of her podunk, hickburg hometown. "Gone for Good," a duet sung by Kevin Robinson and guest musician Corin Tucker (Sleater-Kinney)- and not a Shins cover- is accented by twangy pedal steel guitar and a goin'-down-that-old-dusty-road vibe. A few songs turn up the volume and likewise succeed, particularly the banjo and harmonica-fueled "Blue Sunshine" - a tune apparently about a guy whose wife smacks him around - as well as "Clean the Clock," which starts the album off on a rollicking country rock note that most of what follows can't quite match.

The album tends to play out like a retread of the past a little too much though, both in sound and the cast of characters that miserably stumble across its canvas. There is a fair amount of over-indulgence in slight tracks like "Run Rabbit Run," "Wesley" and "The Game," all of which are ruined by electric guitar excess and inane lyrics like, "So we've been livin'/ But we are hardly alive/ We've been there for years/ And we have never arrived." "The Void Above the Sky" is framed as a classic country song but instead unravels like a bastard child of "Ghost Riders in the Sky" and the "Rawhide" theme song. Quintessential sad-sack figures seem to have been forcibly removed from the hard-luck American music playbook and dropped smack into the middle of the album, whether it's the poor wounded-in-love schmuck of "Target Heart" or the morose brooders of "When Will the Sun Shine?" and "Go On."

The lyrics don't help the cause either; though the Robinsons have a flair for an incisive turn of phrase, more often these lines veer heavily toward the banal and clich├ęd. Although these lyrics are never cluttered or flowery, they aren't exactly mind-blowing or original either: a listener can hear simplistic aphorisms like, "Your head is hot/ And your heart is cold/ The damage done is gonna take its toll" and "When it's over/ It's over" almost anywhere these days.

Five of the songs from Blue Giant previously appeared on the Target Heart EP, and though such recycling is understandable if the content is good enough to warrant it, that's not the case here. It's also not possible to write off the album as a handful of musicians just messing around, as its songs carry with them a certain degree of seriousness. Blue Giant is serviceable as a blend of American roots music, but very little distinguishes it from other records that mine that same territory. Listeners have heard this type of stuff before, and this album doesn't do much to suggest they need to hear it again.

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