Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hey Rosetta!

(As a perambulatory note, March features the release of several new records this blogger is eagerly anticipating. In recognition of this reality – as well as other artists who released albums prior to March that have yet to receive treatment – this week and next will include multiple reviews, on the customary Tuesday as well as the following Thursday to make our way through the entire compliment. At least one review will be filed by our first guest reviewer.)

Properly situating the context of a new group or artist can be a muddy affair. On some occasions, a hint of a classic influence sneaks through some lyrical similarity or the nuance of a finely-rendered arpeggio. In others, sounds emerge which nod to a more contemporary peer. And frequently, some hybrid of past and present shape the new work of a well-versed group of songwriters and performers. Such is the case with the St. John's, Newfoundland-based six-piece, Hey Rosetta! On their third full-length release, Seeds – out today on Sonic Records – some unlikely union emerges comprised of Frightened Rabbit, Paul Simon, The Arcade Fire and, ominously, the Dave Matthews Band.

The bright mandolin which welcomes the opener, "Seeds," is an expeditionary call to the road, like those so many great odes to the highway – such as The Arcade Fire's "Keep the Car Running" or "Across the Bridge" from the Great Lakes Myth Society. The opening lyrics are equally summoning, as frontman Tim Baker launches the journey as "the road bends long, like mother's arms; reaching for these four black tires..." When the full six-piece outfit launches into the number's driving chorus, the trip is fully underway. Less appealing, however, is the rhythmic breakdown following the bridge, as if it was pulled from one of Mr. Matthews' attempts to prove his group's new world music bona fides, with its yips and hollers. Fortunately, the tune returns to course not long after.

Once again, the second track emerges as the collection's most promising. "Yer Spring" eases in like a gentler Frightened Rabbit selection, with Baker approximating the cadence of his Scottish counterpart, Scott Hutchinson, but without the brogue. The track's growing intensity likewise matches the Scots' overall tone – see offering such as "Fast Blood" or "Nothing Like You" for a comparative taste – and what emerges is a well-rounded, but committed performance that demonstrates the group's versatility as the string section of Kinley Dowling (violin), and Romesh Thavanathan (cello) proves its mettle against the growing anthemetic.

The trailing "Young Glass" maintains the same voice and conviction, with a bit more early movement and Simonian lyricism. References to Central Park and ivory halls, when paired with lines like "sleepwalk through the rooms where you grew up," and "keeping out the killers and keeping out the creeps" suggest a mid-career Paul Simon narrative, perhaps blended with the trendy sound of his most devoted contemporary disciples. Again, the Dowling and Thavanathan announce their nimble presence at the number builds to its orchestrated crescendo.

And although the succeeding "Bricks" is a bit too jam-band-y – once more pointing to the DMB influence, although perhaps not intentionally – the continually-evolving "New Sum (Nous Sommes)" evokes the catalog of their fellow Canadians in The Arcade Fire, especially considering the French subtitle. While the initial muted reggae riff is a tad confusing before it morphs into a more punchy Clash-via-Talking Heads pattern, the fully-formulated rocker it becomes at its zenith is much more compelling.

After the largely unfocused "Downstairs," potential live set opener "Welcome" is, by contrast, thundering and features the only full-fledged guitar solo among the album's 11 tracks. Meanwhile, at 3:53, "Seventeen" is the collection's most pop-oriented offering while "Yer Fall," although starting slow, really rounds-out into an aggressive stomper by its closing. The closest the record comes to a ballad, "Parson Brown," reinterprets the imagery of the holiday classic involving the title character with substantially less wintry optimism.

Come for: "Yer Spring"
Stay for: "Young Glass"
You'll be surprised by: "New Sum (Nous Sommes)"

P.S. Hey Rosetta! will be appearing at DC9 in Washington, DC on March 24. See this weekend's Touring Schedule Saturdays for details on their, and other tour itineraries.

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