Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Telegraph Canyon

Found somewhere along the drifting byways of central Texas is the Fort Worth-based folk rock outfit Telegraph Canyon, offering a Texas-sized approach not only in their number of bandmates (seven) but also in musical scope – blending lush orchestrations with Eagles/CSN-style harmonies and a slew of instruments. The ultimate product is their second full-length release, The Tide and The Current, released in 2009, that responds to the need of each song with an appropriate mix of musicality, listenablity and integrity in a promising debut effort.

Listeners familiar with the subjects of previous reviews here of The Southeast Engine and The Overmountain Men will find musical camaraderie in Telegraph Canyon's approach to linking local narrative with interesting instrumentalization – everything from banjos to string parts are included – in backroads journeys like "Safe on the Outside," "Into the Woods" and "Shake Your Fist." The first is the most driving of the 10-track collection, with its most fully-realized melody and chorus structures, while opener "Into the Woods" eases into its sojourn gently, with frontman Chris Johnson's rusty-sharp intonation layered over a reluctant piano figure before kicking into a more aggressive pace around the two minute mark. It's here that the prowess of the full ensemble is exposed as harmonicas, organs, and multifaceted percussion fueling the project forward. Meanwhile, the latter presents a pretty banjo-and-xylophone foundation before awakening its electric guitars in a track that wouldn't be entirely out of place next to an early Radiohead cut like "Stop Whispering."

The mid-album Americana number, "A Light in the Field," finds a residence in that welcome and comfortable space occupied by the likes of Petty, the Counting Crows and Jakob Dylan, with plenty of Hammond organ and hazy guitar suited for filling the air of a Midwestern summer night. It makes the most of the track's just-under three minutes. Its followed two tracks later by the more quirky "Quirky Assurance," which doesn't settle quite as easily into the heartland groove it aspires to as its predecessor, but is still largely effective in demonstrating some sing-along harmonies as it builds in intensity. Likewise, the penultimate "Dressed in Flight" introduces some nice fiddle work by bandmate Tamara Cauble that later meets up with a corresponding electric guitar harmony by Erik Wolfe. Like "A Light in the Field," I appreciate this track's brevity, which adds some urgency to the waltzy ballad, producing perhaps the finest performances on the record.

I'm not as enamored with Johnson's handful of singer-songwriter type tunes. His voice is a bit stark and grating on its own, without the highlights and flavor provided through his fellow musicians. They're not poor compositions on their own, and include some pleasant accordion and string work, but aren't especially compelling when contrasted with the rest of the work.

Come for: "Safe on the Outside"
Stay for: "A Light in the Field"
You'll be surprised by: "Dressed in Flight"

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