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Snowgoose - Harmony Springs

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Artist: Snowgoose

Album: Harmony Springs

Label: Ba Da Bing

Review date: Mar. 11, 2013

Hearing an album that takes inspiration from British folk of the 1960s and ’70s can be a gamble. It’s a point of reference that’s shown up on recent albums I’ve enjoyed from the likes of Marissa Nadler, Meg Baird and Sharon Van Etten. But it can also be shorthand for a particular group of albums that seem lost in their own influences, making music that’s precise and polite without ever really taking the time to sting. In the case of Snowgoose, their penchant for restraint doesn’t always work in their best interests.

Guitarist Jim McCullogh was once in the Soup Dragons, and if you listened to alt-rock radio in the early ’90s, that mention has probably caused their song “Divine Thing” to become stuck in your head, possibly for all eternity. (You’re welcome.) Also on board here is Teenage Fanclub’s Raymond McGinley — and on paper, you might think to peg Snowgoose as some sort of Britpop All-Stars. Not so here. Instead, much of Harmony Springs is reasonably straightforward folk-rock, with many of the songs built around Anna Sheard’s voice.

That’s not a bad starting point. Sheard is equally capable at belting out defiant numbers and sounding concerned and wounded. (Linda Thompson wouldn’t be a bad point of reference, both sonically and stylistically.) And as one might expect, the album allows for moments of storytelling, the melancholy narrative of “Fox on the Tracks,” for one. Thematically, you have the pastoral colliding with modernity, though it’s also one of the most sonically atmospheric numbers on the album.

Playing into a listener’s expectations can be problematic, however. Some of the album’s songs rely on familiar-sounding melodies (abutted by archetypal harmonies) a bit too much. The title track soars in places, but there’s little about it that I could call specific to Snowgoose — it does good things within a certain template, but it never transcends it. Elsewhere, there are forays into jazzier numbers. The melody of “Shifting Sands” recalls Dave Brubeck’s Time Out — still tapping into the familiar, albeit in a different mode. “Sycamore” achieves a similar breeziness to “Harmony Springs” while pushing toward a more distinctive sound.

“Hazy Lane,” located near the end of Harmony Springs, is a restrained pop shuffle that recalls the country-rock influence that popped up a couple of times on Teenage Fanclub’s 1993 album Thirteen. It stands out in the context where it’s placed: amidst songs that focus more on atmosphere and meditations on a theme, the fact that it’s more or less upbeat works to its advantage. It doesn’t stand in sharp contrast to the rest of the album, but it’s a contrast nonetheless. If songs like this and “The Apple Sun” are any indication, Snowgoose could devise a familiar style all their own, even as their debut, like so many first efforts, seems to document the process of getting there.

By Tobias Carroll

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