Thursday, March 3, 2011

Rural Alberta Advantage – Departing

The second post of this week is also the second time a group has been reviewed a second time. Coincidence? Entirely. (The Gaslight Anthem was the first band to receive dual reviews, here and here).

In December, you heard about the Alberta folk-rock trio, The Rural Alberta Advantage, and their debut release, Hometowns. That review promised an analysis of their March 1 follow-up, Departing, released in the U.S. on Saddle Creek Records and in the True North on Paper Bag Records. Today, that promise is fulfilled and all family business is settled. On their rookie-level effort, the three-piece stuck to a relatively simple approach, spinning earnest snapshots of of their provincial home (although these days the band operates out of Tronna). Largely driven by frontman Nils Edenloff's vinegary wail and acoustic guitar and supported by heartening vocals from multi-instrumentalist Amy Cole and solid timekeeping by drummer Paul Banwatt. That record's baker's dozen tracks point to specific Albertan markers in titles such as "The Dethbridge in Lethbridge," "Frank, AB" and their ode to the province's City of Champions, "Edmonton."

This time around, however, the outfit has evolved into a warmer and certainly more musical direction on Departing. While its predecessor only delivered scant instrumentation beyond the aformentioned structure, the 10-track album is coloured by a robust selection of piano and keyboards, chimes, and even some faint strings. The group has taken advantage of its added experience and the recording resources provided their twin backing labels to construct a fuller sound, one that begins with the opening "Two Lovers." Do not take the easy pace and relative gentility (at least for the R.A.A.) as some odious torch song. A simple glance at the lyric sheet reveals Edenloff's true intent here:

You're face, it haunts me more them most
And If I ever hold you again
I will hold you tight enough to crush your veins
And you will die and become a ghost
Haunt me till my pulse felt so slow

Returning to more familiar territory is 'The Breakup," where the end of winter is paired with the culmination of a relationship that's set among a string of Alberta references including the Asaband, Coker and Fort McMurray. And although "Under the Knife" doesn't advance the cause of unique elements much further, the following "Muscle Relaxants" is more attractive. Benefiting of a brisk backbeat and out-of-character electric guitar, its the sort of material the R.A.A. would do well to replicate in the future. In a live set, it would serve as a prelude for their former record's prime cut, "The Dethbridge in Lethbridge."

"North Star" contains perhaps the most relaxed vibe here, with Edenloff's piano functioning as a solid underpinning for the mid-tempo affair. Meanwhile, the successive trio of "Stamp," Tornado 87" and "Barnes' Yard" hark back to the debut of Hometowns, with the unsettled and rusty tone that defined their initial work. Closer to the end, "Coldest Days" is a serviceable ballad, relating the trio's most countrified sound, but the closer "Good Night" is too stark and sparse considering Edenloff's dominating whine, despite Cole's best efforts at mirroring vocals.

Come for: "Two Lovers"
Stay for: "North Star"
You'll be surprised by: "Muscle Relaxanats"

P.S. The R.A.A. will appear at the Rock & Roll Hotel in Washington, D.C. on March 13. Again, full touring details for all NMTs reviewees will appear every Saturday here as part of Touring Schedule Saturdays.

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