Call it Americana, alt-country, folk-rock, or beyond category, but San Francisco's Or, the Whale has its own sound while drawing on the wellsprings of American country and folk music. If the Whale could be likened to other bands, it'd be the Byrds circa Notorious Byrd Brothers and Sandy Denny-era Fairport Convention, two other legendary units that channeled "roots" strains in new and exciting ways. Like the former, Or, the Whale integrates aspects of country music (banjo, pedal steel guitar, loping tempos, etc.) without ever coming off overtly "country"; like the latter, alternating straightforward male vocals with lovely female singing (Lindsay Garfield's cool alto evokes Denny and Sally Timms), achingly plaintive harmonies, and tight, restrained ensemble playing, and all inspired by traditional British and American folk music, putting its own distinctive spin on it.
Where their first album, Light Poles and Pines, had lilting melodies, twang, and poppy hooks, this Whale is a somewhat different mammal. Most songs have leisurely, fractured, or melancholy tempos, but there's enough range and variety to keep you away from Dullsville or Sorrowtown. Guitars (acoustic, electric, and pedal steel) and keyboards provide accent and flourishes to their songs in a judicious and artful fashion, while the vocals — alternating Garfield's, Julie Ann Thomasson's sultry, slightly tart tones, Alex Robbins' weary yet resilient semi-drawl, and, oh, their harmonies — are distinctively rich and emotionally expressive without being over-the-top. Not up-and-at-'em listening, Or, the Whale is a magnificent piece of work for wondering-where-it-all-went-wrong moods. (Seany)
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